CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy and Club Tijuana may not play in the same league, but that doesn’t mean that the Galaxy do not have a firm handle on how their Mexican opponents will lineup at StubHub Center on Wednesday.
Under the stewardship of new Venezuelan manager Cesar Farias, the same man who led his nation at the U-20 World Cup and Copa America, Club Tijuana has endured inconsistent form during the 2014 Clausura Tournament. Despite sitting in ninth place in the Liga MX table, Tijuana remain one of the most aggressive attacking teams in Mexico and one that is expected to test LA early and often in their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals first leg.
“They are pretty unpredictable,” Galaxy forward Landon Donovan told reporters in a press conference on Tuesday at StubHub Center. “I have a pretty good idea of how they move and how they play. But they’re a little difficult to pick up at times because in some instances, they’re all over the field when they’re attacking. The key for us is when we’re in possession; we take advantage in the spaces that are left open [by their attack].
“If they come back here and sit back and defend then it’ll be different, but my guess is that they’re designed to play a certain way and they don’t vary from that too often,” added Donovan. “They like to attack, they like to go forward and they have good players that can make players offensively. If we’re going to have success, we need to exploit the spaces when they’re there.”
What makes Farias’ Tijuana side particularly dangerous is their ability to pressure opposing defenses through the presence of wingback Edgar Castillo and the constant movement of playmakers like Fernando Arce. The ability of the U.S. international Castillo to push up from his spot at left back deep into the attacking end is vital for the Mexican side as they seek to create numerical disadvantages for their opponents that help lead to turnovers which generate chances for attackers like leading goal scorer Cristian Pellerano and Argentine forward Dario Benedetto.
Although this brand of consistent pressure can be “unpredictable” for opposing defenses, Galaxy center back Omar Gonzalez feels that the Galaxy have a handle on how to defend such an attack.
“We just need to try and keep them in front of us,” said Gonzalez. “We have to keep an eye on some of their key players and make sure that they don’t chip balls in behind us. From what I’ve seen, they like to go on breaks where they’re chipping balls behind you and you’re running with your back toward your own goal, that’s where you can get into trouble.”
While Tijuana’s attacking movement helps them test the opposition, it leads to considerable space—especially out wide— which has been a source of weakness during their Clausura campaign as Xolos have conceded 13 league goals in 10 games, which is tied for the third-worst mark in the Mexican first division.
As players like Castillo push forward, it leaves considerable gaps behind the defense, which plays well into the Galaxy’s bread and butter over the last several years: the counter attack.
“Counter attack has been something that we’ve been very good at and we’d love to be able to strike them," said defender Todd Dunivant who is expected to be available for selection on Wednesday after overcoming a nagging ankle injury. “We have to be able to take advantage of those spaces [behind the defense].”
However, no matter how Tijuana opts to play, the Galaxy are confident that they have the weapons to test their Mexican side counterparts.
“I’m sure that we’ll get a feel for them in the first five or 10 minutes on how they’ll play,” said LA captain Robbie Keane. “We’ll be ready for whatever system that they decide to play and we’ll try to exploit them… If we play the way that we know that we can play in terms of counter attack. We know that we can give them a lot of problems.”