TIJUANA, B.C. — To get you set for the LA Galaxy’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second leg against Club Tijuana, I spoke briefly with MLSsoccer.com and Goal.com’s Mexican correspondent Tom Marshall about Tuesday’s match.
My conversation with Marshall is below.
LA GALAXY INSIDER: “Tijuana head coach Cesar Farias opted to rest his starters against Cruz Azul, a lot has been made about FMF teams not respecting the competition, what does this say about TJ's focus on the competition?”
MARSHALL: “Everything. Toluca rested key players for its first leg against San Jose and then fielded them in the Liga MX on Friday against Queretaro, despite being pretty much qualified for the playoffs already. Xolos are doing the opposite. Unlike the vast majority of Mexican first division clubs, Xolos are engaged in expanding the club’s name and image outside of Mexico and believe the CCL is a great opportunity to do that. The reaction Tijuana got from its Copa Libertadores run last year was immense and only re-emphasized the club’s desire to be a club “without borders,” as the Xolos marketing slogan goes. It is an area in which, for me, Xolos are light-years ahead of other Liga MX clubs.”
LAGI: “Dario Benedetto played briefly in the first leg, but is likely to start on Tuesday, in what ways can he test the Galaxy defense?"
MARSHALL: “Predicting Cesar Farias’ teams is already notoriously difficult, but having said that, Benedetto is Tijuana’s most in-form striker and looked good when he came on last week. Benedetto is quick, athletic and doesn’t give defenders any rest. He likes to drift out to the flanks or into midfield to receive the ball and create space for others, which is something Galaxy’s center backs will have to be wary of. The Argentine clearly has a lot of potential, but hasn’t really done himself justice so far in Mexico, mainly because of injury problems.”
LAGI: “MLS teams have struggled mightily in Mexico. Do you think the proximity between the two clubs may downplay this struggle or do you feel that the environment at Caliente will prove too much for LA?”
MARSHALL: “As much as everyone seems to be minimalizing the notion of a rivalry, I was in Tijuana a couple of weeks ago and the people there are very excited about this game. The atmosphere will be immense. Xolos are still such a young club and it shows in the raw enthusiasm for the team around the city. But in terms of the atmosphere being too much for LA, no way. The Galaxy has played its fair share of big playoff and MLS Cup matches recently and figures like Bruce Arena, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane aren’t going to be overawed. Donovan especially is likely to receive a hostile reception, but that tends to only to make him perform better. The usual travel and altitude factors won’t come into play, which is a massive bonus for Galaxy. For me, the real edge that Xolos have for this match is being familiar with their turf pitch.”
LAGI: “The last 45 minutes of the first leg were played at a breakneck and frantic pace that Tijuana plays so well, do you expect the second leg to be similar and how can that help or hurt Tijuana's chances?”
MARSHALL: “I expect Tijuana to come out flying and cause the game to be very much like the second half of the first leg. Xolos will likely have more possession, but the key for Galaxy will be to establish early on that it is a threat on the counter-attack and to make sure it takes a chance and gets that vital away goal. The Tijuana defense hasn’t looked the same since the Pablo Aguilar-Javier Gandolfi partnership was broken up over the winter, when Aguilar was sold to Club America. But, I honestly don’t think there is much between the teams. It’s going to be who performs on the night.”
LAGI: “Herculez Gomez has had so much success against MLS teams but he's struggled to see the field and will likely not start on Tuesday. What's been the reason for his struggles with TJ? Do you think he'll contribute in the second leg?”
MARSHALL: Never write anything off with Farias. Who knows if Gomez not starting last week was to fire him up for the return leg? Having said that, I agree it does seem an outside prospect at present. Gomez’s knee injury obviously was a major setback last year and the bottom line is he needs a couple of goals to really get his career going at Xolos. I expect him to come off the bench and wouldn’t be at all surprised if he scores on Tuesday night, considering his record in the CCL.”
LAGI: “What's your prediction for the match?”
MARSHALL: “Tijuana 2-1 LA Galaxy. I can see Xolos having the better of the match, but I don’t think they’ll keep a clean sheet against the quality Galaxy possess going forward.”