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."