Past the midpoint of the 2010 Major League Soccer season, the Los Angeles Galaxy are atop the entire league. Only twice have opponents bested the club as the Galaxy sit with an astounding 40 points through 18 games.
But the Galaxy must prove their worth against an outside opponent in order to earn the right to square off against the region’s best.
On Tuesday, the Galaxy play host to the Puerto Rico Islanders in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round matchup. This is not an opportunity to clear the bench and rest the Starting XI.
“The end goal is to go to the (FIFA Club World Cup) and we think with the players we have, that we have a real chance,” LA captain Landon Donovan said. “We’re going to take this very seriously. A lot of teams in SuperLiga or in this competition don’t take it as seriously but for us we’re going to really go for it.”
How serious is Galaxy coach Bruce Arena about Tuesday’s match? He did not start either Chris Birchall or Gregg Berhalter against San Jose on Thursday, and cited the Champions League matches as part of the reason why the two stalwarts did not play in the 2-2 draw against the Quakes. The chance to participate in the CCL is a unique chance for MLS clubs, and Arena is not going to squander it.
“It’s an outstanding opportunity for our club to see if we can achieve at the international level,” Arena said. “The Galaxy has been out of these types of competitions for a number of years. It’s important that we take this competition on a positive note and really try and do well.”
The Galaxy won the regional tournament a decade ago, when it was known as the CONCACAF Champions Cup. The last time they participated was in 2006, when the club blew a 2-0 lead at Deportivo Saprissa in the second leg of their quarterfinal series and bowed out 3-2 on aggregate.
This time around, if the Galaxy can get past Puerto Rico, they advance to the group stage in the standard tournament format established in 2008. The Islanders currently sit in last place in the USL Conference in the USSF D-2. They have a 6-7-5 record, 1-4-4 on the road, and have scored eight goals in nine road matches.
With the Galaxy having to focus on their league opponents, however, they know little of their opponents.
“Not a whole lot,” Donovan said when asked what he knew about this Puerto Rico squad. “I looked at some of their players, some of the guys who’ve come out of MLS. I know they’ve struggled a little bit in their league. For us, it’s about how we play on Tuesday night. If we play well, we should beat them.”
Galaxy forward Edson Buddle said the chance to take a stranglehold on the series is there for the taking, but it begins not with scoring goals but with preventing them.
“We want to win, especially at home. This is a tournament we want to achieve something,” Buddle said. “Away goals count for something so we want to get a shutout. That’s something we want to get back to. Two or three goals would be nice but we definitely want a shutout first.”