CCL: Galaxy expect stadium, surface to play role in result
ALAJUELA, Costa Rica – Situated in the middle of a residential neighborhood, Liga Deportiva Alajuelense’s stadium has a unique feel to it.
Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto is colorful, spacious and very much intimidating.
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“I played here before,” Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant said ahead of the team’s CONCACAF Champions League matchup against Alajualense on Wednesday (10 pm ET/7 pm PT, FOX Soccer, concacaf.com). “It’s an intimidating venue, so we’ve tried to give the guys kind of what to expect. It’s going to be people up against the cages, pounding, yelling, everything you can imagine. It’s going to be a hostile environment for sure.”
Fans are kept away from players and off the stadium’s artificial surface with a steel fence that encircles the stadium. Brightly colored seats – which rise up at a steep angle – have a small walkway in front of them before the fence blocks fans from the field, which is immediately below the fence.
The intimate and menacing atmosphere extends beyond the field.
“You’re down in the locker room and the stands are right above you and ... you can hear everything and their stomping and the fans are going crazy,” Dunivant said.
The Galaxy worked out at the stadium on Tuesday, at least giving them a dry run for what to expect when game time arrives.
“It was good,” Dunivant said. “Guys got to see it today and they got a little bit of a feel. It was an advantage to come out and kind of see what we can expect.”
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Turf not an issue for LA
The stadium’s artificial surface is also a barrier and will likely benefit the hosts, but the Galaxy are hoping that advantage will not be as pronounced as some might expect.
“We’ve played four games this year on artificial turf and we won three of them,” Dunivant said. “That’s a pretty good record on the road in any surface, let alone on turf. We feel confident from that standpoint.”
The Galaxy have already won regular-season games this season at New England’s Gillette Stadium, Seattle’s CenturyLink Field and Vancouver’s Empire Field. The only turf field which claimed the Galaxy, however, is the one venue the club will keep in mind when planning for Wednesday’s match.
“We’re looking at this game similar to how Portland was in terms of the field and how fast it’s going to be,” Dunivant said. “They watered the field in Portland and we didn’t respond well enough and they took it to us [the Galaxy lost, 3-0]. We have to respond better, and I think they’re going to high-pressure us and try and put us on the back foot. We’re going to expect that and we have to be smart early on.”
MLS connections for Alajuelense
Alajuelense, meanwhile, have some history against MLS sides. The Galaxy will be the fourth contest all-time between Alajuelense and an MLS team.
New England visited the stadium twice before, in 2002 and '06, while San Jose traveled here in '04. The match against the Earthquakes featured current Galaxy players Dunivant and Landon Donovan.
“It was a good atmosphere,” Donovan recalled. “It wasn’t full, but they’re passionate. The crowd was passionate. It was a little different than playing with the national team. The national team, there is so much more on the line, and that’s where some fear comes in.”
Alajuelense have cleaned up against their MLS opponents historically, winning all the matches by a combined 8-0 scoreline. The Costa Ricans have also played Champions' Cup matches against Chicago (a penalty-shootout victory in 1999) and D.C. United (a 2-1 loss in 2000), but both matches were at neutral sites, long before the tournament switched to its current format.
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and be reached at email at firstname.lastname@example.org.