ALAJUELA, Costa Rica – Chris Birchall has seen it all before.
Here in Central America, supporters have earned a reputation for being rabid, do-anything types who will create an imposing atmosphere. Whether that translates into success for teams is a different story, but visitors to Costa Rica will surely earn their result if that's the case.
Birchall is part of the LA Galaxy squad that traveled to Costa Rica for Wednesday’s critical CONCACAF Champions League match against Alajuelense (10 pm ET/7 pm PT; FOX Soccer, concacaf.com). Along with Morelia, the Galaxy and the Costa Rican club have six points, and Wednesday’s encounter could go a long way in determining who gets out of the group stage and who does not.
For now, the Galaxy may be content with getting out alive.
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“All’s I remember was an intimidating atmosphere, a full house, the crowd right on top of you, the turf pitch as well,” said Birchall, recalling an international qualifier he played in Costa Rica while on duty with Trinidad and Tobago. “It was tough to play. The atmosphere is more intense than what I’d witnessed before.”
Back then, the fans came out to support la Sele. In a day’s time, the locals will come out to support Liga Deportiva Alajuelense. The stadium has already claimed a victim as Morelia fell 1-0 in the teams’ opening match of the Champions League.
What likely helped Alajuelense out against Morelia is what could also play into the hosts’ favor against the Galaxy.
“[The fans] can make the away team get intimidated — not scared to play but on edge, like this is their home pitch and they don’t want anyone to come in and win the game," Birchall said. "I just think that’s the mentality of [Central] American teams. I remember playing in Guatemala, Honduras, and they’re the same. … I expect a tough game and a loud crowd.”
Had things gone differently for LA in Mexico, perhaps the match would not be as critical as it is. Morelia scored two late goals last week and the Galaxy had a legitimate goal waved off because of a nonexistent offside call. When Alajuelense beat Motagua two days later, the stage was set for a mammoth encounter.
“We’ve just got to try and get the same mentality as what we did in Mexico – go out, be patient, hold them for 20 minutes and try to get into the game then and steal a goal, which we did exactly,” Birchall said. “And then the last 20 minutes, if you’re winning you know you’re going to be under pressure and try and hold out. Our tactics went to plan in Mexico — apart from the last seven minutes.”
Even though the atmosphere will be just as daunting as it was in Morelia, Birchall said the club’s approach should help balance things out and eventually sway things towards the Galaxy’s favor.
“We feel like we have more of a chance to get a result here than what we did in Mexico,” Birchall said.