CARSON, Calif. -- Check any of the fine media outlets covering Wednesday night's CONCACAF Champions League Semifinal first leg between the LA Galaxy and C.F. Monterrey and you'll hear about the importance of Robbie Keane, Humberto Suazo, Omar Gonzalez or Aldo De Nigris, but the match may in fact turn on something else, LA's ability to control the midfield against the Mexican giants.
That responsibility will fall to the Galaxy's Brazilian central midfield tandem of Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas, who must battle with Monterrey's Jesus Zavala and Walter Ayovi. The two-time defending CCL winners may be loaded to the brim with talented players, but Sarvas believes that the game will depend on LA's ability to simply retain possession.
"As much as we can have the ball and control the game, that means that they don't have the ball and they're no dangerous against us. I think our team has the players to keep the ball and find the space to create the opportunities," said Sarvas. "We have to be very clever when we going forward to not leave space for the players, also don't turn over the ball because they go fast on the counter attack."
No player was more effective in the month of March than LA Galaxy midfielder Mike Magee and it is no surprise that he was selected as Player of the Month by the North American Soccer Reporters on Wednesday.
Magee currently leads MLS in goals scored with five, equaling his regular season totals in 2011 and 2012. Despite Magee's goal total, the voting was close as Magee earned 17 first place votes just two ahead of Montreal midfielder Patrice Bernier who had 15.
CARSON, Calif. -- The CONCACAF Champions League Semifinal matchup between the LA Galaxy and Monterrey is an important and special contest for each member of the LA club, but it might just be more important to defender Omar Gonzalez.
Both sides of Gonzalez’s family hail Mexican state of Nuevo Leon—his father is from Montemorelos and mother is from Monterrey—and the defender made several trips to visit family in Monterrey as a child to visit relatives during summer and the holidays. But his trips weren’t limited to family visits as after his freshman year at Maryland; Gonzalez even had a trial with Monterrey’s inner-city rivals Tigres UNAL before opting to return to college.
“That's going to be amazing,” Gonzalez said of playing in Monterrey. “That one will be more special than the one here, I think, because I'll be playing in front of a bunch of family. My mom's going to fly down for the game, and it's going to be fun.”
Gonzalez even has a link to LA’s CCL semifinal opponents as his maternal uncle Lalo Rodriguez Plata served as the captain of Monterrey in the 1980’s. Gonzalez has yet to speak with his uncle about Wednesday's contest, but he did exchanged texts with him following his appearance for the U.S. National Team in a scoreless draw against Mexico at Estadio Azteca.
There are plenty of emotions swirling around the defender ahead of the match against his childhood club, but once the whistle blows, Gonzalez understands that LA have a match to win.
“We are playing against a team who has won this [tournament] twice, and my family is from there. My uncle used to play there,” Gonzalez said. “I just want this to be a good game. It's a good opportunity to show ourselves in front of a good Mexican club and just put ourselves on the map.”
To the Galaxy on the map however, Gonzalez will have his hands full as he looks to shut down a vaunted Monterrey attack led by star forwards Aldo De Nigris and Humberto Suazo.
“De Nigris, he's been good for a long time. He is a big presence, and he manages to get into the box always and always finishes off scoring chances,” said Gonzalez. “I've been watching [Suazo] on film. He scores amazing goals. His technical ability is great. He's very crafty and very clever, making great runs.”
CARSON, Calif. – Monterrey bring an assortment of stars to face the LA Galaxy in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals, but they’ll be without starting goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco.
The starting ‘keeper has dealt with a right hamstring injury for several weeks leaving the job to 34-year-old backup Juan de Dios Ibarra. The backup made his season debut last Saturday during Los Rayados’ 3-0 victory over Pumas UNAM.
Ahead of Wednesday’s game, Ibarra is confident that he can contribute on Wednesday.
“I’m confident where I am right now,” said Ibarra. “I’m trying to do things the right way and do them how I best know how to do. I’m trying to get confidence to the defenders so we can go out and get a result.”
Ibarra’s teammate midfielder Jesus Zavala has plenty of confidence in the backup goalkeeper.
“Orozco is a great goalkeeper, but we have confidence in [Ibarra]. He can do good work and we those that come off the bench are good quality,” said Zavala.” Fortunately, it is two very important games and we’ll have to think about the players that we do have and on doing things right.”
CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy’s CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals opponents Monterrey trained at The Home Depot Center on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s first leg match up.
Monterrey head coach Victor Manuel Vucetich addressed the media and offered his thoughts on the Galaxy…
(On what he knows about the Galaxy…)
VUCETICH: “Robbie Keane is an international who has played in the Premier League. He’s an element of the highest quality. Landon Donovan we also know even though he’s had the extended quality and we know Omar Gonzalez is a Mexican on the U.S. national team and we know what his strengths are. And we know of a few other of their elements like Juninho and their other defensive midfielder, we’ve also identified Magee and Clark on the left side. We know their lineup at any given time and we know efficient that they’ve been in MLS.”
(On the importance of set pieces…)
VUCETICH: “In world football, set pieces are fundamental. There are a high percentage of goals that come on set pieces. We’ve been working on this and have improved and we have to continue improve on that aspect.”
(On what he expects from the Galaxy…)
VUCETICH: “We expect Galaxy to want to win and to show their superiority on the field because the football that they’ve demonstrated lately speaks well of them. So I think that it’s going to be a team that’s going to be very competitive. “
(On whether there is an advantage for LA playing at home…)
VUCETICH: “I wouldn’t call it an advantage. We will play 90 minutes on each field. The time is exactly the same for both teams. Maybe the second leg, the fact that we’re at home changes things a little bit because we have the support from our fans.”
What are your thoughts on Vucetich's comments.
The LA Galaxy will play their most important game to date on Monday when they take on C.F. Monterrey in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals clash.
Read my Three Points to the below...
CARSON, Calif. – When Jose Villarreal was growing up in Inglewood, Mexican league games were a frequent part of his families’ weekend television regiment and among teams that the LA Galaxy forward enjoyed the most was Monterrey.
A self-professed fan of Liga MX giants Cruz Azul, as a child, Villarreal was hungry to consume any soccer game on television and frequently found himself watching Los Rayados.
“I grew up watching up watching these players on the weekends with my family,” said Villarreal of LA's CONCACAF Champions League Semifinal opponents. “I know most of the players and I’m a big fan of the team and a fan of them so it’s going to be a great experience for me to play against them.”
One player that sticks out most for Villarreal is Monterrey’s talented striker Humberto Suazo, who Villarreal believes is quite similar to LA’s own star forward Robbie Keane.
“He’s just a clever player. He’s another player like Robbie, same ability around the box and with his creativeness with the ball,” said Villarreal. “He’s lethal around the [penalty] area so it’s going to be a tough match up for our defenders.”
Villarreal is expected to contend for a starting spot alongside Keane, but no matter where he finds himself on LA’s team sheet, he’s eager for a chance to face a Mexican opponent.
“I always dreamed to play in Mexico and to have the chance to play against them tomorrow is going to be fun,” said Villarreal. “It’s going to be an experience and I’ll cherish that forever.”
CARSON, Calif. – Both CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals feature Mexican clubs against a pair of MLS sides, but even though Mexico and the U.S. have a fierce rivalry at the international level, the LA Galaxy don’t believe that it translates to the CCL.
Following the Galaxy’s final training session ahead of Wednesday’s CCL Semifinal first leg against Monterrey, LA head coach Bruce Arena and forward Landon Donovan—both renowned for their contributions to the U.S. National Team—each disagreed that the rivalry will play a role in CCL.
Their comments are below…
ARENA: “I don’t think the national team’s rivalry has anything to do with this competition, to be honest with you. These are not all Mexican players against all-American players in this competition. It is truly a club competition so it has a very different take than a national team.”
DONOVAN: “I don’t know how the other guys feel, but in the end, you’re going to assume that it’s going to come down to U.S. and Mexican teams in this part of the tournament. Once in a while, you’ll probably have a team break through from another country, but that’s just sort of the expectation. A lot of our players aren't American, a lot of their players aren't Mexican so it changes that a little bit.”
Do you agree?
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CARSON, Calif. – Carlo Cudicini admittedly didn’t know much about CONCACAF soccer during his time in Europe, but since joining the LA Galaxy, the veteran Italian goalkeeper has become quickly familiar with the leagues of North America.
The Italian was solid in the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals against C.S. Herediano as he allowed just a single goal over the two-leg series. However, the Italian knows that the two-time defending CCL champions will provide much more of a challenge than LA’s Quarterfinal opponents.
“Definitely, it’s a great test for us. Especially in the semifinals, we know that we have a big challenge in front of us, but we are up for it,” said Cudicini. “We want to do well in this competition so we know that it’s going to be hard, but hopefully we have the right mentality to go and play against these guys.”
As for Monterrey, Cudicini highlights forward Humberto “El Chupete” Suazo as a player that should give the Galaxy back four and himself a test on Wednesday.
“They have a striker [in Suazo] that is part of the national team and we know that he is a good strong guy,” said Cudicini. “Collectively, it’s a good team. They play with a solid defense and they’re very dangerous with free kicks and set pieces in general. Definitely for a team that won the last two editions, it must be something good in it.”
To preview Wednesday's CONCACAF Champions League match, LAGalaxy.com's Joe Tutino spoke to Fox Soccer commentator Brian Dunseth on the LA Galaxy's CCL Semifinals opponents C.F. Monterrey.
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