Robert Mora / LA Galaxy

Quest for Champions League title begins in Toronto on March 7

CARSON, Calif. – All the LA Galaxy’s Mike Magee needs to know about the pride involved in the CONCACAF Champions League was he found himself rooting for MLS rival Real Salt Lake a year ago.

Salt Lake advanced to the Champions League final, where it lost to Mexico’s Monterrey 3-2 in the home-and-home aggregate goal series and missed out on becoming the first MLS team to reach the FIFA Club World Cup, which was won by Barcelona in Japan two months ago.

“I think it was the first time in my life I rooted for them,” Magee said with a grin. “It was weird.”

However, he won’t have Real Salt Lake to cheer on this year. Instead, he will be a little busy with the Galaxy, trying to replicate RSL’s road to the Champions League Final and then go one step further by becoming the first MLS team to win the tournament. That quest began in August 2011 and after winning Group A, they now face Toronto FC in a two leg, home-and-home, aggregate goal quarterfinal that starts at Rogers Centre in Toronto on March 7. The return leg will be played at The Home Depot Center a week later.


Tickets for that game, which will be played at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 14, are on sale now. (BUY NOW) The crowd for the game will be limited to 7,500 per a long-standing agreement with Cal State Dominguez Hills, which is in session.

Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said should the remaining MLS teams do well in these latter rounds, the long-term benefits would be tremendous.

“I think MLS is building where we can compete on an annual basis now with the more elite club teams in CONCACAF,” he said. “Obviously for years the Mexican clubs have dominated the competition. I think we’re pretty pleased we have three MLS teams remaining with Toronto and Seattle and ourselves.”

“Perhaps we’re still not ready as a league because it’s very difficult for us to maintain teams and build teams each year to get better. But that’s the challenge of the competition,” Arena added. “It’s a barometer to see how far we’ve come as a league. At this point having three teams in the last eight is an indication we’re making progress.”

All three of the remaining MLS teams are on the same side of the tournament bracket, with the winner of the Galaxy-Toronto series scheduled to face the winner of the series between Seattle Sounders FC and Mexican side Santos Laguna. On the other half of the bracket, defending champion Monterrey faces Monarcas Morelia in a battle of Mexican sides and El Salvador’s Isidro Metapan takes on the fourth Mexican representative in the quarterfinals, UNAM Pumas.

Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant said the general mind-set toward the competition has changed dramatically.

“I think you’re seeing every year MLS teams put more and more into it,” he said. “Salt Lake doing so well and making it to the (Champions League) final really opened a lot of people’s eyes. These competitions have been difficult for MLS teams in the past and I think a lot of us have kind of used that excuse to push it aside.

“But I think that’s changing, and you’ve seen that with three teams now qualifying for the knockout stage. That’s a testament to teams putting a lot into this. I think that’s great for our league. It’s another step, another part of the evolution of this league.”

Magee said the importance of the competition never was questioned.

“At the beginning of the year we had goals of MLS Cup, the Supporters’ Shield and advancing in CONCACAF,” he said. “That was huge for us, whether we had MLS games during that week or whenever, we put full effort going into Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras. I think it would be huge to be the first team to win this championship.

“Our league has grown so much. To have that trophy and that kind of recognition would obviously be the next step. I think if there ever was a team to do it, I think we have as good a chance as anyone.”