Robert Mora / LA Galaxy

Galaxy face Costa Rican champions with first place in Group A on the line

CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy take on Costa Rican side LD Alajuelense in the second round of group play in the CONCACAF Champions League on Thursday at The Home Depot Center (7 p.m., FOX Soccer) and are confident they’re prepared for anything.

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Will Alajuelense, the champion of the 2010 Invierno and 2011 Verano seasons in Costa Rica but missing top goal scorer Jonathan McDonald and No. 1 goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton, sit back, be defensive-minded and try to grab an all-important point on the road?

Perhaps. But one thing the Galaxy won’t do is underestimate their opponent. They know to expect the unexpected.

“They have a very good team, and they had the best team in Costa Rica this year,” head coach Bruce Arena said after training Tuesday.  “They have very good players coming off an excellent win against Morelia (a 1-0 victory in their Champions League opener on Aug. 16).

“It will be a very difficult game.”

The Galaxy apparently have learned their lesson in these Champions League affairs, not only from last year’s stunning, Preliminary Round loss to the Puerto Rico Islanders but from their group opener, a 2-0 victory over Honduras’ Motagua, just over a week ago.

Adam Cristman scored in the 13th minute and the Galaxy pretty much was in control the rest of the way. They hope to employ a similar strategy on Thursday.

“Getting out on these teams early is huge,” defender Todd Dunivant said. “We did it against Motagua, we got the goal and it made a huge difference. It kind of changed the whole flow of the game, the whole tone of it.

“They’re certainly going to try and do that to us when we go there. It’s our job to get on them early and jump on them from the start.”

Dunivant said he and his teammates are ready for another dangerous opponent Thursday.

“You’ve got to expect them to be difficult to play against, to scrap and fight, roll around on the ground, fake injuries and do whatever else they do because they’re smart and clever when it comes to these kinds of games,” he said. “We have to be ready and strong right from the start.”

Defender Omar Gonzalez said the Galaxy also have to be careful.

“You have to respect everyone you play against, but you never fear them,” he said. “We’re going out to play our game and just worry about the way we go out and perform.”

Gonzalez said the opener against Motagua gave the Galaxy a good feel for what to expect in this competition. But he also said Motagua was surprising in at least one respect.

“It’s funny,” he said. “[Against Motagua] we were thinking they were going to sit back, but they didn’t. They actually wanted to play and didn’t sit back at all.

“We’ve got to be able to expect everything.”

It all goes back to that early departure from the Champions League a year ago, Dunivant said.

“Look at the mentality going into that game and the mentality going into the first Champions League game [this year], it’s night and day,” he said. “We had our first-choice lineup out against Motagua, and you’d expect the same Thursday.

“We’re putting everything into it, and hopefully the results will follow.”

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