michael stephens vs. metapan, 9/18/13
Robert Mora/LA Galaxy

LA Galaxy head to El Salvador looking to complete perfect group stage record against Isidro Metapan

CARSON, Calif. – Initial impressions of Thursday’s CONCACAF Champions League Group 8 finale between the LA Galaxy and El Salvador’s Isidro Metapan (7 p.m., Fox Sports 2, Univision Deportes) would appear to indicate there is not much to play for. But that is hardly the case.

The Galaxy have already clinched their group and a third straight berth in the quarterfinals thanks to a perfect 3-0-0 record to this point of the competition. But while their quarterfinal berth is assured, they are now focused on achieving the best seed possible as they head into the next round of the competition, which begins in March 2014.

The only MLS team to have already qualified for the quarterfinals, LA are one of three teams with a 3-0-0 record in the Champions League Group Stage. Yet to concede a goal in the competition, the Galaxy enter the final set of games knowing that a fourth win over Metapan in two years would guarantee the club of at least a top three seed heading into the knockout rounds.

“Bruce (Arena) gave us a breakdown of the point situation,” midfielder Michael Stephens said. “It’s important as far as seeding goes that we finish strong to set ourselves up for the next round.”

Stephens, one of two players to start all three of the club’s group stage games and has played in a club record 17 Champions League games for the Galaxy,

This is the second meeting of the 2013-14 Champions League between the Galaxy and Metapan with LA claiming a 1-0 win at StubHub Center on Sept. 18 thanks to an early Laurent Courtois goal. The two sides also met in the group stage of the 2012-13 Champions League with LA winning 5-2 at home before earning a 3-2 win in El Salvador behind a pair of Jack McBean goals. While that game was played at Metapan’s typical home of Estadio Jorge Calero Suarez in Metapan, Thursday’s game will be played two hours away at Estadio Cuscatlán in the capital city of San Salvador.

Veteran midfielder Pablo Mastroeni, who has also started all three of the LA’s Champions League matches, said he expects Isidro Metapan to give a strong effort, even though the winless Salvadoran side (0-2-1) has long since been eliminated from the competition.

“There’s a lot of pride in football all over the world,” he said. “When you’re at home you want to protect your home turf and put on a good performance for the club and the fans who support you.

“It may not make sense to the media or people on the outside, but there’s always something bigger than yourself to play for. It’s going to be a very competitive game.

“They’re definitely not going to lie down.”

Stephens, who scored the game winning goal when the Galaxy beat Metapan on the road last year, echoed those sentiments.

“They’re at home, they have pride, it’s never an easy game when you go to Central America,” he said. “We’re expecting a good game from them.”

And, in that regard, Stephens emphasized the Galaxy will be well-prepared.

“We’ll be ready to go. Everybody’s ready,” he said.