CARSON, Calif. – There is no denying the sense of anticipation for Wednesday’s first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal between two-time defending Champions League winners Monterrey and two-time defending MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy (7 p.m., Fox Soccer, Galavision, lagalaxy.com/live). BUY TICKETS
Galaxy players have been talking about the impending matchup for weeks. Major League Soccer thought enough of the importance of it to reschedule the Galaxy’s weekend regular season game against the Montreal Impact to mid-October. A similar switch was made for Seattle Sounders FC, who face Santos Laguna in the other semifinal.
At this stage, the players just want to get the game started.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity,” said the Galaxy’s Landon Donovan, who ended his almost four-month sabbatical from the game in last Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Toronto FC. “The reality for us is we’re four games away from being in the club world championship (in December in Morocco). We take this very seriously.
“You never know when this chance comes again.”
The Galaxy are facing a Monterrey side that has won the last two CCL titles and finished an impressive third in last year’s FIFA Club World Cup (behind Brazil’s Corinthians and England’s Chelsea) in Japan. They feature highly regarded forwards Humberto Suazo (his nine assists lead Liga MX) and Mexican national team member Aldo de Nigris, the team’s top scorer with six goals so far in the league.
There also are defender Severo Meza and midfielder Jesus Zavala, both of whom are veterans of Mexico’s national team. Monterrey, however, will be missing starting goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco, who recently suffered a torn muscle in the back of his right thigh during training and is expected to be sidelined for more than a month. He will be replaced by 34-year-old Juan de Dios Ibarra.
“In my opinion, they’ve been the best team in this region for two, three, four years,” Donovan went on. “It would seem like if you’re going to win the Champions League you’re going to have to go through them at some point.”
Said Galaxy goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, a veteran of the Champions League in Europe, “It’s a great test for us. We know we have a big challenge in front of us, but we are up for it.”
The Galaxy, who are expected to welcome back forward Robbie Keane, who missed Saturday’s game in Toronto with a calf injury but returned to training earlier this week, have a win and a loss in two previous Champions League matches against Mexican opposition, losing 2-1 away to Morelia and beating them at home by the same score in the Group Stage of the 2011-12 Champions League. This is the first time that LA have advanced to this stage of the competition, which took its current format in 2008. The Galaxy did win what was then known as the CONCACAF Champions Cup in 2000.
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The second leg of this semifinal series will be held on Wednesday, April 10 at Monterrey’s Estadio Tecnologico.
“We think we will match up well with them,” Donovan said of Monterrey. “I think they’re going to be two really good games and we think we have enough to get by.
“Now it’s on us to put it on the field.”