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08 March 12:58 pm

HEREDIA, COSTA RICA – Carlo Cudicini has seen it all in Europe— Champions League ties, FA Cup matches, and everything in between, but on Thursday night, he got a taste of something entirely different—the CONCACAF Champions League.

Cudicini made his CCL debut in Thursday’s scoreless draw against C.S. Herediano in the first leg of the  Champions League Quarterfinal. The match was just Cudicini’s second full appearance with the club and saw the Italian pitted against a raucous crowd at the Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero that did all they could to break the veteran. Although road crowds generally the focal point when it comes to CCL, Cudicini maintained his composure. 

“Crowd wasn’t too bad. It was okay. In my opinion, with the turf and the wind, it’s already difficult to play on turf, but with the wind, it was even worse,” said Cudicini. “That was probably the worst and the fact that we came away with a good result is a positive. Now we have the second leg at home, and we need to win. It’s as simple as that.”

The crowd may not have played a major factor for Cudicini, but the FieldTurf and swirling winds caused a few nervy moments for the Italian. Whether it was a shot that knuckled after contact with the turf or lofty cross that changed direction in the wind, Cudicini admits that the conditions were far from ideal.

“It wasn’t the best conditions to play in and the turf doesn’t help to put on a nice show out there,” said Cudicini. “At the end, the team did very well and we didn’t concede much so this was good.”

But the turf and the wind could not stop Cudicini from making an impact in the game’s most decisive moment. In the 86th minute, Sean Franklin was whistled for a highly-questionable foul after minimal contact with Herediano’s Ismael Gomez in the box that set up a penalty kick for the home side.

As Gomez stepped up to take the kick that seemed destined to give Herediano the victory, Cudicini delivered a little stutter step that seemed to distract the attacker.

“I saw that he was a bit nervous so I tried to mess up his concentration,” said Cudicini. “In the end, he just hit the bar.”

With the first leg firmly behind the two clubs, Cudicini believes that the change in venue will only help LA in their quest to reach the semifinals.

“We will be able to play more football [at The HDC], which was difficult [in Costa Rica] because of the wind at the turf,” said Cudicini. “Hopefully, we can play more our game and it will be the difference.”

08 March 5:30 am

The LA Galaxy returned to rainy Southern California and plenty of content on Thursday night's game will coming this morning, but to tide you over, the full game highlights are below...

07 March 2:46 pm

HEREDIA, COSTA RICA -- We're only hours away from the LA Galaxy's CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal first leg match up against C.S. Herediano. 

Below are a few last minute pieces of reading material, a few match-ups to watch and predicted lineups... 

*Robbie Keane relishes the chance to play in hostile enviornments and he'll get to face another on Thursday.

*There has been no bigger story this week in Costa Rica than Marcelo Sarvas' return,  so Joe Tutino caught up with Sarvas in this edition of All-Access.

*Galaxy boss Bruce Arena spoke to the media on Wednesday and offered his thoughts on the game.

*LA wrapped their preparations on Wednesday evening and I filed this notebook, but additional notes can be found here

*For more on Herediano, I spoke to Fox Deportes reporter Juan Carlos Aguero to get an inside look at the Costa Rican team

*LAGalaxy.com reporter Larry Morgan offers his game preview.

Lastly, my Three Points to the game.

MATCH-UPS TO WATCH

OMAR GONZALEZ VS. YENDRICK RUIZ

Ruiz is the leading goal scorer in Costa Rica with six goals at the moment, but he's not known for his physicality, so he'll face a serious test in Gonzalez when the first whistle blows. However, Ruiz's speed off the ball will provide a challenge for LA's back four as Herediano will look to stretch the field early and often. Ruiz is not the only forward to watch, however, as his likely strike partner Mainov Diaz has scored three goals in his last three games.

MARCELO SARVAS vs. ELIAS AGUILAR

No player has received more attention from the locals than Marcelo Sarvas, but he'll face a major test on Thursday as he matches up against Herediano playmaker Elias Aguilar. The Argentine prefers to play just behind the strikers where he can best use his passing ability to create chances for Ruiz and Diaz, but if LA is to come out of Costa Rica with a result, Sarvas and his midfield partner Juninho must pressure Aguilar and cut down on his passing lanes. 

HEREDIANO SET PIECES vs. GALAXY SET PIECES

For all the bluster about the speed of play in Thursday's match, the game may very well come down to set pieces. Aguilar and left midfielder Ismael Gomez each have a knack for scoring during dead ball opportunties and are expected to test goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini often. However, LA's own free kick taker Juninho should be more than a worthy adversary for Herediano 'keeper Daniel Cambrorero. 

PREDICTED LINEUPS

HEREDIANO: Cambronero; Obando, Salazar, Montero, Francis; Ramirez, Granados, Aguilar, Gomez; Ruiz, Diaz

GALAXY: Cudicini; DeLaGarza, Gonzalez, Leonardo, Dunivant; Franklin, Sarvas, Juninho, Stephens; Keane, Magee

07 March 1:45 pm

SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA -- Few stadiums throughout CONCACAF have the reputation of Estadio Saprissa. Known throughout the region as La Cueva del Monstruo or The Monster's Cave, the 24,000 seat stadium, which serves as the home for Deportivo Saprissa and the Costa Rican National Team, is one of the most intimidating venues in CONCACAF. 

As the LA Galaxy prepare for Thursday evening's CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal first leg against C.S. Herediano, a pair of Southern California-based reporters were given a look inside "The Monster's Cave." Fans of U.S., Honduras, and Mexico will become quite familiar with the stadium as Los Ticos are expected to host their most important "Hexagonal" World Cup Qualifying matches in "La Cueva" rather than the ultra-modern Estadio Nacional. 

One interesting point that relates to the Galaxy's CCL campaign, our tour guide -- local reporter -- Leo Sandi stressed that continential competition is of huge importance in Costa Rica, particularly after Saprissa was able to win the 2005 CONCACAF Champions' Cup. Following that victory, the tournament became of greater importance for Saprissa as well as their arch rivals L.D. Alajuelense and Herediano, who are seeking to equal the achievement of their arch rivals. Could we see that kind of desire in MLS if a team is able to win the CCL?

Below are a few photos of the stadium. 

Welcome to the Monster's Cave

The very first stone laid at Saprissa. 

The Main Stand from the Supporters' Section

Walking up the Supporters' Section

Saprissa's first ever team

Saprissa's 2005 CONCACAF Champions Cup winning-side

Behind the North Stand

Inside the Monster's Cave

Check out the video below for a full panoramic view of the stadium and the surrounding area from the highest point in the venue. If you look closely, you can see the Estadio Nacional as well as stadiums for Alajuelense and Herediano.  Also, the field is currently being cleaned after a Mana concert the night before that drew 45,000 people. 

07 March 7:46 am

HEREDIA, COSTA RICA, -- It's the morning of the LA Galaxy's CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals first leg against C.S. Herediano. 

Ahead of the game, check out my Three Points to the game below...

Three Points: Galaxy seeking a result in Costa Rica

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Agree or disagree?

Share your thoughts below. 

06 March 9:31 pm

A total of 19 players traveled with the LA Galaxy to Costa Rica for Thursday's CONCACAF Champions League first leg against C.S. Herediano.

During the portion of Wednesday's at Estadio Elano Rosabal Cordero open to the media, the following group was spotted. 

GK: Carlo Cudicini,  Brian Perk

DEF: Todd Dunivant, Omar Gonzalez, Sean Franklin, A.J. DeLaGarza, Leonardo, Oscar Sorto

MID: Marcelo Sarvas, Hector Jimenez, Juninho, Rafael Garcia, Michael Stephens, Greg Cochrane

FWD: Robbie Keane, Mike Magee, Charlie Rugg, Chandler Hoffman, Jack McBean

A full recap of training with thoughts from Keane, Magee,  Dunivant, and Juninho can be found here

A few notes on the roster and the team's training are below...

*18 players will dress for the match.

*All but five players (Carlo Cudicini, Oscar Sorto, Greg Cochrane, Charlie Rugg, and Chandler Hoffman) have CONCACAF Champions League experience.

*Six players on the roster have scored away goals in the CCL (Robbie Keane, Mike Magee, Sean Franklin, Michael Stephens, Jack McBean, and Sean Franklin).

*Jack McBean leads the Galaxy in goals scored for the 2012-2013 tournament with three goals, but Juninho is the all-time leading scorer in the competition with five. 

*Seven players (Todd Dunivant, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Juninho, Marcelo Sarvas, Robbie Keane, and Mike Magee) were on the field for LA's last trip to Costa Rica (a 1-0 loss to Alajuelense). Six players were with the Galaxy, while Sarvas was still with Liga. 

El Rosabal is a turf field. According to several team members, it is uneven with a few dead spots that seem to kill the momentum of a pass. It compares unfavorably to turf fields in Seattle and Portland. 

*Following practice, Sarvas offered the following thoughts on his negative reception at the airport on Tuesday: "I'm glad that my mom is in Brazil and she can not hear what they say."

06 March 5:22 pm

HEREDIA, COSTA RICA – Prior to the LA Galaxy’s training session in Heredia, LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena caught up with traveling reporters  to discuss the match.

Arena’s complete conversation with reporters is below..

(On his thoughts on Herediano…)

ARENA: When you see teams from other countries, it’s hard to actually compare them. It’s not like comparing apples to apples, like where we have a better understanding in MLS in making a comparison. It’s a unique to what we are accustom to, in MLS, but certainly, that latin flavor. They have a bunch of good players on the ball, quick, but we’ll see what they look like next to us and vice versa."

(On Marcelo Sarvas’ comment that the game will come down to how the Galaxy manage facing a Costa Rican style of play…)

ARENA: “I think that you can have the same argument in Mexico.  Small countries have a style. It’s a little different. Is Costa Rica as big as California? Probably not. When you say that, look at Holland and England, ountries that are small and have one climate and one time zone, it’s a lot easier to have a style of play. That’s certainly what Costa Rica has. I’d say that it’s similar to Mexican soccer. They have a way of playing and it’s their style which is very unique to our country where we have all other kinds of issues that prevent that from happening.”

(On Herediano’s current level of play after their coaching change…)

ARENA: “Results indicate that they’re an improved team because of that.”

(On whether he relishes managing in tough environments…)

ARENA: “I don’t know if relish is the right word, but this is something that we think is part of the job and this is something that we think is important for our club. We’re developing as a club and we think that we should be able to compete successfully in international competitions. That’s what this is and it’s a challenge for our entire organization. How we get here, how we play, all that stuff is important. It’s an organizational challenge not only players and coaches. Then we return next week [to The Home Depot Center] and try to create an atmosphere for our team to be successful .”

(On whether getting knocked out at the quarterfinal stage in the 2011-2012 edition of the tournament motivates the club…)

ARENA: “I don’t think last year matters at this point because actually after that we entered into a new competition, which allowed us to be here. So that’s all forgotten. We did a good job as a team to get through the new competition and be here today and certainly we realize that it is challenging and important.”

(On any specific challenges with Herediano…)

ARENA: “It’s going to be a very competitive match. It’s going to be a fairly challenging environment with the fans, the surface and the officiating. We have to be ready mentally ready for that. If we can put all those distractions to the side and be able to focus and play for 90 minutes, we have a chance to win the game. Experience allows you to do that and we have enough players that have participated in these competitions where we think that we can be successful.”

(On whether he will use the first choice team or the second team…)

ARENA: “Again, circumstances are different. Right now we don’t have a game this weekend. We can play whomever we want and we don’t have to be concerned about that. For this game, we’re certainly going to put a team on the field that can win these games. No question about it, with what we think is our first team.”

06 March 2:46 pm

HEREDIA, COSTA RICA -- Robbie Keane has dealt with his fair share of hostile environments throughout his career and on Thursday, he’ll lead the LA Galaxy into another as they head to the volatile Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero to take on Herediano in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals first leg.

A rowdy crowd is expected when the two teams take the field, but LA already got a taste of the reception they’ll receive at kick off upon landing in San Jose on Tuesday evening. Keane has scored in hostile environments in CCL play in the past as he tallied in LA’s controversial defeat to Monarcas Morelia in Mexico during the group stages of the 2011-2012 tournament. 

Ahead of the quarterfinal first leg, the Galaxy captain admits that his club must rise to the occasion.

“It’s good, it’s something that you should relish and it’s always good to get a little bit of stick from the fans because it keeps you concentrated,” Keane told reporters at the team hotel on Thursday. “It’s a good opportunity for us. It’s going to be a tough game and we know that with everything that surrounds it. [The series] is 180 minutes and we have to be clever in our approach and think about the bigger picture rather than tomorrow’s game.”

But will the hostile crowd get under Keane’s skin? Quite the opposite it seems.

“Obviously, the stadium is fairly small and you’ll be able to hear everything that the fans are saying. Luckily, I don’t understand Spanish so it is quite easy for me,” Keane said. “It’s good to play in these games. I really enjoy it and when the fans get a bit angry, you can wind them up a little bit. For me, I enjoy it.”

06 March 1:26 pm

The Galaxy may be focusing on the CONCACAF Champions League, but on Wednesday, MLS released the complete schedule for the MLS Reserve League. 

LA will play ten matches in Reserve League play starting with a match against USL Pro side L.A. Blues on April 7 at Titan Stadium in Fullerton as part of the league's partnership with the third tier league, the Galaxy will face the Blues again on May 7 at The Home Depot Center. Other matches of note include a pair of matches against Chivas USA on July 22 and Oct. 7 and a match against the San Jose Earthquakes on Sept. 8. 

The complete schedule for Reserve League is here

06 March 11:48 am

HEREDIA, COSTA RICA – Marcelo Sarvas’ return to Costa Rica has been headline news locally this week and amid all the attention, the Brazilian midfielder and several of his teammates had an opportunity to give back to the community.

Sarvas and his Galaxy teammates Omar Gonzalez, Sean Franklin and Juninho participated in a clinic with sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica, Herbalife and the Club Sport La Libertad Foundation. During the event, children from local youth soccer team Club Sport La Libertad were able to sign autographs, pose for pictures with the 2012 MLS Cup trophy as well as run through soccer drills with the players.

It was Sarvas who served as the catalyst for the event as he spoke to Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena about the potential for an event during LA’s CONCACAF Champions League trip to face C.S. Herediano. Arena quickly agreed and the event was coordinated.

“It’s something beautiful, when you live in a country like [Costa Rica] you know how important that some words for the students are,” said Sarvas.  “I think that it’s very beautiful for Galaxy and Herbalife to do this and help these people. I’m sure that they had a beautiful day and they will keep this in their memory for a while.”

Photos and video of the event are below…