Stephens CONCACAF Champions League

Galaxy ready to face off against region's best clubs

CARSON, Calif. – The importance of Tuesday’s CONCACAF Champions League opener against Honduran Clausura champion Club Motagua at The Home Depot Center certainly is not lost on LA Galaxy coaches or players. Neither is the disappointment of last season’s failed run in the Champions League.

It was only a year ago when the Galaxy were upset by the second-division side Puerto Rico Islanders in the Preliminary Round of the competition, losing 5-3 on aggregate, including a 4-1 loss at home in the first leg of that series. The disappointment with that result still lingers in the current Galaxy team and it will serve as motivation going into Tuesday’s match.

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“This is really important, especially because of how we went out last year,” second-year Galaxy midfielder Michael Stephens said after training on Saturday. “I think this year we want to redeem ourselves and show that we have a team that can compete internationally as well as do well in MLS.

“It’s very important to all of us.”

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The Galaxy and Club Motagua are in Group A of the Champions League along with Costa Rica’s LD Alajuelense and Mexico’s Monarcas Morelia. The Galaxy will play all three of those teams twice, once at home and once on the road, in the group stage that ends Oct. 20.

“It’s big,” Galaxy defender Gregg Berhalter said. “First of all, it’s a great experience, but more than that it’s a competition. And we want to go in with the mindset that we want to succeed in the tournament, and that means going to the next round.

“It’s always a measuring stick. It gives you a chance to compare yourself but also compete at a good level.”

The Galaxy’s Chris Birchall said these games are not only chances to prove themselves against arguably some of the best teams in CONCACAF but also to continue to show MLS is a league to be reckoned with.

Last year, for example, Real Salt Lake reached the CONCACAF Champions League Final, where they lost to Monterrey.

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“It’s very important to help the level of MLS and we want to do well because we’re representing the Galaxy,” he said. “It’s an enjoyable thing going to different countries and playing different teams in hostile environments.

“We’re looking forward to it.”

Stephens admitted he knew little, if anything, about the CONCACAF Champions League prior to joining the Galaxy as a 2010 first round draft pick out of UCLA. He said he often watched the UEFA Champions League in Europe, but now knows the CONCACAF version is not to be taken lightly.

“We all want to show we’re good, not only nationally but internationally,” he said. “I think if you look at the best clubs in the world that’s what they’re all striving to do, and we’re no different.”