Champions League gets underway for Galaxy

Saunders expects former team to play the counter

boca_saunders

Photo Credit: 
Robert Mora

LA Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders said he always enjoys
facing former coaches and teammates, and Tuesday night’s game at The Home Depot
Center will be no exception.

Saunders and the Galaxy will take on the Puerto Rico
Islanders in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League Preliminary Round
series. The second leg will be played on Wednesday, Aug. 4 in Puerto
Rico, with the winner of the aggregate goal series advancing to
the group stage, which is set to begin on Aug. 17. Should the Galaxy advance,
they would be placed into Group D of the tournament, along with Toluca of
Mexico, CD Olimpia of Honduras
and the winner of the Preliminary Round series between FAS and Xelaju.

The game will mark a reunion of sorts for Saunders, who
played for the Islanders in 2007 and counts as many as six former teammates
still on the Islanders roster. He also will be meeting up with his former and
current Islanders coach, Northern
Ireland's Colin Clarke. As a result, he knows
what to expect from the visitors.

"They're going to be very organized, very
defensive," Saunders said. "They're going to look to get us on the
counterattack. They're a good team, don't take that away from them."

The Islanders, based in Bayamon,
Puerto Rico and founded in 2003, play in the
USSF Division 2 Pro League. They are tied for fifth place in the NASL Conference
and are led by goalkeeper Bill Gaudette and forward David Foley, who has a
team-high six goals in the league this season, as well as, former Galaxy
midfielder Josh Hansen and former D.C. United forward Nicholas Addlery.
Gaudette, Adderly and Hansen are three of the eight players that were drafted
by or played for MLS teams in the past before joining Puerto
Rico.

The Islanders have now qualified for three consecutive
installments of the Champions League, making them one of just seven teams to
have reached the tournament in each of the past three years. They failed to get
out of the group stage in the Champions League a year ago, but they did reach
the semifinals in 2008, when they lost to Mexico's Cruz Azul on penalty
kicks. Puerto Rico made it to this year's
competition after winning their first Caribbean Club Championship in May.

"We do know a little about them," Galaxy head
coach Bruce Arena said. "We do
know they've been remarkably successful in this competition, and we have to be
aware of that. They understand how to play in this competition, and that means it's
going to be a pretty difficult game tomorrow."

The game marks the Galaxy's first appearance in this form of
the tournament, which replaced the CONCACAF Champions Cup that ran from
1962-2008. The Galaxy won that earlier competition in 2000, when they defeated
CD Olimpia of Honduras
3-2 in the final. The winner of the Champions League earns a spot in next
year’s FIFA Club World Cup.

The timing of tonight's game figures to be difficult, to say
the least, considering Arena and the Galaxy's four MLS All-Stars -- Edson Buddle, Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez and
Donovan Ricketts -- will fly to Houston
immediately after the game to take part in Wednesday's MLS All-Star game
against Manchester United. Arena will be coaching the squad. Then they will
return to Los Angeles
to prepare for Sunday's MLS game against the Chicago Fire.

"The All-Star Game is secondary to this," Arena
said. "How they schedule it like that and why, I don't really know.
There's not a whole lot I can do about it anyway. Our objective is to get
through this game comfortably and position this team to advance into group
play.

"The first leg is critically important."