CONCACAF

17 March 5:10 pm

TIJUANA, B.C. — To get you set for the LA Galaxy’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second leg against Club Tijuana, I spoke briefly with MLSsoccer.com and Goal.com’s Mexican correspondent Tom Marshall about Tuesday’s match.

My conversation with Marshall is below.

LA GALAXY INSIDER: “Tijuana head coach Cesar Farias opted to rest his starters against Cruz Azul, a lot has been made about FMF teams not respecting the competition, what does this say about TJ's focus on the competition?”

MARSHALL: “Everything. Toluca rested key players for its first leg against San Jose and then fielded them in the Liga MX on Friday against Queretaro, despite being pretty much qualified for the playoffs already. Xolos are doing the opposite. Unlike the vast majority of Mexican first division clubs, Xolos are engaged in expanding the club’s name and image outside of Mexico and believe the CCL is a great opportunity to do that. The reaction Tijuana got from its Copa Libertadores run last year was immense and only re-emphasized the club’s desire to be a club “without borders,” as the Xolos marketing slogan goes. It is an area in which, for me, Xolos are light-years ahead of other Liga MX clubs.”

 LAGI: “Dario Benedetto played briefly in the first leg, but is likely to start on Tuesday, in what ways can he test the Galaxy defense?"

MARSHALL: “Predicting Cesar Farias’ teams is already notoriously difficult, but having said that, Benedetto is Tijuana’s most in-form striker and looked good when he came on last week. Benedetto is quick, athletic and doesn’t give defenders any rest. He likes to drift out to the flanks or into midfield to receive the ball and create space for others, which is something Galaxy’s center backs will have to be wary of. The Argentine clearly has a lot of potential, but hasn’t really done himself justice so far in Mexico, mainly because of injury problems.”

LAGI: “MLS teams have struggled mightily in Mexico. Do you think the proximity between the two clubs may downplay this struggle or do you feel that the environment at Caliente will prove too much for LA?”

MARSHALL: “As much as everyone seems to be minimalizing the notion of a rivalry, I was in Tijuana a couple of weeks ago and the people there are very excited about this game. The atmosphere will be immense. Xolos are still such a young club and it shows in the raw enthusiasm for the team around the city. But in terms of the atmosphere being too much for LA, no way. The Galaxy has played its fair share of big playoff and MLS Cup matches recently and figures like Bruce Arena, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane aren’t going to be overawed.  Donovan especially is likely to receive a hostile reception, but that tends to only to make him perform better. The usual travel and altitude factors won’t come into play, which is a massive bonus for Galaxy. For me, the real edge that Xolos have for this match is being familiar with their turf pitch.”

LAGI: “The last 45 minutes of the first leg were played at a breakneck and frantic pace that Tijuana plays so well, do you expect the second leg to be similar and how can that help or hurt Tijuana's chances?”

MARSHALL: “I expect Tijuana to come out flying and cause the game to be very much like the second half of the first leg. Xolos will likely have more possession, but the key for Galaxy will be to establish early on that it is a threat on the counter-attack and to make sure it takes a chance and gets that vital away goal. The Tijuana defense hasn’t looked the same since the Pablo Aguilar-Javier Gandolfi partnership was broken up over the winter, when Aguilar was sold to Club America. But, I honestly don’t think there is much between the teams. It’s going to be who performs on the night.”

LAGI: “Herculez Gomez has had so much success against MLS teams but he's struggled to see the field and will likely not start on Tuesday. What's been the reason for his struggles with TJ? Do you think he'll contribute in the second leg?”

MARSHALL: Never write anything off with Farias. Who knows if Gomez not starting last week was to fire him up for the return leg? Having said that, I agree it does seem an outside prospect at present. Gomez’s knee injury obviously was a major setback last year and the bottom line is he needs a couple of goals to really get his career going at Xolos. I expect him to come off the bench and wouldn’t be at all surprised if he scores on Tuesday night, considering his record in the CCL.”

LAGI: “What's your prediction for the match?”

MARSHALL: “Tijuana 2-1 LA Galaxy. I can see Xolos having the better of the match, but I don’t think they’ll keep a clean sheet against the quality Galaxy possess going forward.”

17 March 9:34 am

CARSON, Calif. – In what promises to be a match played a breakneck pace, controlling the midfield will be vital once the LA Galaxy take the field against Club Tijuana at the Estadio Caliente on Tuesday.  

The task of slowing the game down will not be an easy one for Galaxy midfielders Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas as they’ll look to stifle Tijuana’s dynamic midfield pairing of Fernando Arce and Christian Pellerano.

In the second half of LA’s 1-0 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg victory last week, Pellerano was particularly effective, pulling the strings as Tijuana tried searched for equalizer. With Tijuana needing a goal to get back into the series, limiting the box-to-box midfielder’s chances at goal will be key for LA.    

“[Pellerano is] a very good player. He was a very calm player, he looks to control the game and dish the ball across the field. Marcelo and I have talked about him a lot this week,” said Juninho. “We’ve also got to be mindful of [Arce] as well, so we’ve got to be prepared and pay attention at all times.”

Although the two midfielders pose a major threat for LA, Sarvas believes that if LA can slow down the frantic pace, the team can force Tijuana into uncomfortable positions.

“We have to be in good spots and not give up space. But the most important thing is that every time we go forward, we have to [get shots off] which allows the team time to go back and defend again,” said Sarvas. “We've simply have to delay the game as much as we can whether it’s with fouls, corner kicks, free kicks, or throw-ins because as time wears on, they’re going to get nervous and make mistakes."

16 March 1:27 pm

CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy know that when they take on Club Tijuana in their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second leg, they’ll be facing not only the players on the field, but a raucous crowd at Estadio Caliente.

One of the most fierce atmospheres in Liga MX, the Galaxy understand that they’ll be facing a boisterous fan base on Tuesday when they look to hold up their 1-0 aggregate lead over Tijuana.

“I expect it to be pretty wild and pretty crazy,” said Landon Donovan. “It’ll be fun for us because we enjoy playing in games like that. With this team over the years, we usually play in front of the opposing team’s best crowd. We’re used to hostile environments and we thrive on it.”

Marcelo Sarvas, who also has considerable experience playing in hostile environments throughout his career, expects a fevered atmosphere on Tuesday.

“I’m from Brazil and I think it’ll be the same. People will scream at you, they’ll be throwing things like coins or water or whatever,” said Sarvas. “They’re going to push the team for 90 minutes and it’ll be tough. It’s a good game to play because you have to put your heart before everything and face the game the right way.” 

16 March 12:32 pm

CARSON, Calif. – With just two days remaining before the LA Galaxy’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second leg match against Club Tijuana, LA head coach Bruce Arena spoke to the media.

As a little update, myself and the rest of the LAGalaxy.com team will be traveling down to Tijuana tomorrow and we’ll have plenty of coverage ahead of Tuesday’s match.

Arena’s comments are below.

(On what he expects to be the keys to the game…)

ARENA: “Certainly not conceding a goal in the game. We don’t concede a goal and we go through in the competition. Defending in the early minutes is going to be important because we know that Club Tijuana will come hard at the start.”

(On Club Tijuana resting their starters for the league match against Club Tijuana...)

ARENA: “We anticipated that. They’ll have their full team and we’ll have our full team. It’ll be a good game.”

(On what the Galaxy’s mood is heading into the second leg down in Tijuana…)

ARENA: “We’re really optimistic that we can get through this game and then prepare for the semifinals.”

(On the struggles of MLS teams down in Mexico…)

ARENA: “One thing that is a bit of a relief is that we’re not playing at altitude. However, the artificial field will certainly be an advantage for Tijuana, but we’ve played on [turf] enough. We’ll be ready.”

16 March 11:58 am

Club Tijuana is going all in with their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second leg against the LA Galaxy.

Tijuana head coach Cesar Farias opted to use a reserve-laden squad in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat against Cruz Azul in Mexico City.  Cruz Azul striker Marco Fabian tallied twice as La Maquina roared back from an early deficit to extend Tijuana’s league road winless streak to 20 games.

The Xoloitzcuintles went ahead in the 45th minute when San Diego native Alejandro Guido fed Paul Arriola with a through ball that split two Cruz Azul defenders before the former Galaxy Academy attacker fired a pass across the goal mouth to Richard Ruiz, who scored from close range.Tijuana’s lead would not last, however, as Fabian fired a blast from beyond 25 yards just two minutes into the second half to equalize.

Fabian struck again in the 70th minute with yet another classy finish, this time from close range to give Cruz Azul the victory. Heading into Champions League quarterfinal second leg against the Galaxy, Tijuana sits in 10th place in the Liga MX 2014 Clausura Tournament with 14 points and a 4-5-2 record. 

On Sunday, Galaxy attacker Landon Donovan stated that Farias' willingness to save his first team players for the Champions League second leg showed just how important the competition has become in recent years. 

"It's a sign of the times," said Donovan following Galaxy training on Sunday. "I think that five years ago, they would have played their full team against Cruz Azul and we would have gotten their reserve team, but now, these teams realize that they can't do that anymore. We're going to see their absolute best effort on Tuesday and we're going to need to be ready." 

Highlights of Tijuana's loss to Cruz Azul are below.

15 March 1:21 pm

CARSON, Calif. – Gyasi Zardes was blunt when asked about his offensive performance in Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Club Tijuana in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal.

“I don’t think that I did good at all,” Zardes told LA Galaxy Insider following the team’s training session on Saturday morning. “I could have been a better threat. We got the result, but I wasn’t much of a threat.”

Following a successful start against Real Salt Lake, Zardes struggled going forward against Tijuana as his passing and crossing was frequently off the mark with the forward completing just 13 of his 27 passes. Meanwhile his darting attacking runs amounted in little as he was blanketed by speedy Xolos right back Juan Nunez. Although he struggled to create going forward, Zardes did excel defensively making 11 recoveries and a single clearance to help LA keep the shutout.

“Good physical effort, but he has to be better technically,” said Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena. “He’s still young and it’s going to be up and down. As he gets into the season and we get into a rhythm, we’re going to see some good soccer out of him.”

Whether Zardes remains in the starting XI for the second leg is still up in the air, however, as substitute Stefan Ishizaki was solid in a 20 minute shift against Tijuana.  But if he is indeed starting at the Estadio Caliente, Zardes understands that he’ll need to have a more complete performance.

“I just need to make sure that I defend as well as attack,” said Zardes who asserted that he expected to see a full-strength Xolos team face LA on Tuesday. “I need to be smart with the [forward] runs that I make and listen to my teammates.”

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Should Zardes start?

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15 March 11:52 am

CARSON, Calif. -- MLS teams have struggled mightly in Mexico witha  2-26-5 record all-time, but when the LA Galaxy takes the field on Tuesday evening at Estadio Caliente in their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second leg match, they'll have a player on their team who has tasted CCL victory south of the border. 

LA Galaxy left back James Riley was in the Seattle Sounders FC starting XI on August 23, 2011 when Seattle gave MLS their second ever victory in Mexico with a 1-0 victory over C.F. Monterrey in CONCACAF CCL group stage. Riley's play was instrumental on the game-winning sequence as he helped force a turnover that resulted in a Sounders counter attack that ended when current Galaxy assistant coach Pat Noonan fed Alvaro Fernandez who fired a blistering shot past Monterrey goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco. Seattle's feat came just a week after FC Dallas defeated a reserve-laden Pumas UNAM to become the first team to win in Mexico, but has not been repeated since.

"We put an experienced bunch out and came in with a gameplan that said that we wanted to catch them on the break or a set piece. We got guys behind the ball and, to be honest, there was some fortune on our side. Our goalkeeper [Terry Boss] played huge, some guys made some critical plays and we were able to hold on for the victory."

Although the stakes for Tuesday's quarterfinal are considerably higher than they were when Seattle knocked off Los Rayados, Riley believes that there are lessons to take from the Sounders' victory. 

"We think that Tijuana will come with the same high tempo and try to force the issue early on, which we can expect," said Riley. "We'll simply need to be ready." 

Highlights of Seattle's game-winning goal are below. Riley can be seen at the outset forcing a Monterrey attacker to pass the ball away from the end line, which leads to the decisive turnover . 

14 March 4:52 pm

CARSON, Calif. – Marcelo Sarvas knows that there’s a battle looming ahead for the LA Galaxy.

Sarvas’ fortitude in central midfield was vital during the Galaxy’s 1-0 victory in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg against Club Tijuana on Wednesday. Throughout the match, Sarvas and midfield partner Juninho tussled frequently with Tijuana sparkplug Cristian Pellerano who provided the engine for the Xolos.

The Galaxy midfield controlled the issue in the first half but the Xolos dominated the second half even forcing Sarvas to make a key off-the-line stop in the 68th minute of a Javier Gandolfi header. The save was an important one for Sarvas, who Omar Gonzalez stated after the game, was criticized internally for conceding goals while he was supposed to be defending the near post.

“Marcelo got a lot of flak last year about letting goals in while he was supposed on the post. I’m sure since he saved that one; he’ll let Bruce know ‘hey, look what I did,’” joked Gonzalez.

Heading into the second leg at Estadio Caliente, Sarvas is among three Galaxy players (Gyasi Zardes and Omar Gonzalez being the others) holding a yellow card as the Galaxy prepare to head down to the raucous Tijuana stadium. Although the Brazilian midfielder will need to be smart about his challenges due to the caution, he's ready for the challenge. 

“We’ve never been there, but we know that it is artificial grass and their fans will be loud. We know that they will press for 90 minutes and it’ll be more like the second half [of the first leg],” said Sarvas. “We have to be able to create something on the counter attack and score a goal. If we score a goal, the scenario will change.”

13 March 12:55 pm

CARSON, Calif. -- Club Tijuana may have dropped their first leg to the LA Galaxy 1-0 on Wednesday, but to the Mexican side, they're simply down a goal at half time. 

The Mexican side found themselves down a goal after just 11 minutes on Samuel's strike from close range, but  their attack came alive in the second half as they repeatedly tested the Galaxy defense and forced LA goalkeeper Jaime Penedo to make several remarkable stops to keep the home side ahead at full time

“It’s a game that has 180 minutes, it was not a great result for us but it is also not a bad one considering we played away. It was a hard game," said Tijuana head coach Cesar Farias who labeled the Xolos fan presence at StubHub Center 'spectacular.' "We had two goals on the line, and we pushed trying to grab the tie. We were very stable on the defensive line and we were good with air balls. We had a distraction that cost us the win, but it’s a win that we can come back from in Tijuana and we are going to work with the same professionalism  and with a lot of hope that we will be able to win in Tijuana."

Much of Tijuana's early struggles in the attacking ended from the uneven play of the starting forward tandem of Fidel Martinez and Jaime Ayovi, who rarely tested the Galaxy defense. However, once Farias through on forward Dario Benedetto who was unable to start due to an Achilles injury, Tijuana began to dominate the run of play. The Tijuana attack was only bolstered when former Galaxy attacker Herculez Gomez entered the match for Ayovi in the 80th minute and nearly tallied twice in the final 10 minutes before the final whistle blew. 

As the two teams prepare to head down to the Estadio Caliente, where Tijuana has lost just one league match in more than a year, Gomez believes that the Xolos ability to pressure the LA defense will prove decisive.

“They are an intelligent team, they are organized. The first half they showed how organized they could be. I think what helped us was how urgent we were in the offensive side. I think we created a lot of problems in the second half, but it should be like that during the whole 90 minutes, and not only 45.”

13 March 10:50 am

CARSON, Calif. - New Brazilian forward Samuel was brought to the LA Galaxy to finish the chances that the team often squandered in 2013 and on Wednesday against Club Tijuana, he did just that. 

Samuel tallied the game-winner in the 11th minute off a sequence that began when Marcelo Sarvas launched a cross that bounced off Robbie Keane to the path of the Brazilian for the easy finish that sealed LA's 1-0 victory in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg. The goal wasn't the only high point for the Brazilian who provided a physical presence up top during his 70 minute shift. 

"We played against a very difficult team so it was very important for me to score," said Samuel after the match. "I saw it come off Keane's knee and I was right there ready to score. ... Of course, I was expecting that ball to bounce to me. With a player like Robbie Keane, you have to expect everything so I was ready for the play." 

Added Landon Donovan, "It was a good poacher's goal. He does that in training, he is always around the goal. It was good for him, an important goal, and he did very well tonight."

But one question remains: did Keane intend for that deflection to bounce in the path of the waiting Brazilian? 

"Of course, you know me," asserted a chuckling Keane postgame. 

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