CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy’s previous opponent in the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League, Trinidad and Tobago side Central FC, offered a journey into the unknown.
The defending MLS Cup champions knew almost nothing about their Caribbean foe, but still managed to come away with an impressive 5-1 victory.
The Galaxy are having no such trouble studying and preparing for Guatemala’s Comunicaciones FC on Tuesday at StubHub Center (7 p.m., Fox Sports 2, Univision). Comunicaciones had 11 players compete in the recent Gold Cup, hold a record 30 Liga Nacional de Guatemala titles and, in 1978, shared the CONCACAF Champions Cup with Defence Force of Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico’s Universidad de Guadelajara.
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Comunicaciones is led by forward Rolando Blackburn who joined the club in 2014, and with 21 goals in 35 appearances, clearly presents a formidable challenge for the Galaxy defense.
“I think they’re pretty typical of the teams we see out of Central America,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said, “good, hard-working teams."
“I think they’ll come on the road with a defensive posture and they’ll make it a difficult game for us.”
Arena said it’s never easy preparing for games in the Champions League.
“It’s fairly typical in this competition,” he said. “The difficult part is their style of play is so different. Usually when we get into the quarterfinals in February everything is flipped where we’re just coming out of our preseason. Now they’re just starting their regular season and we’re obviously toward the end of our season."
“It’s kinda crazy how you measure all those things.”
Galaxy forward Alan Gordon said he is expecting a difficult test on Tuesday.
“We know they’re going to be technically good,” he said. “They have 10 plus guys that were on the Guatemalan Gold Cup team; we know they’re going to have some quality players."
“It’s not going to be an easy game and we’re going to have to come out like we did the last game, put the pressure on and get an early goal.”
Defender Dan Gargan said the Galaxy are aware of the unpredictable nature of these games.
“You’re playing a team you rarely see,” he pointed out, "but they definitely won’t underestimate their opponent."
“They have experienced players, obviously a number of guys that played for their Gold Cup squad,” he said. “They’ll be a talented team. They’re champions and have been consistent the last few years."
“I expect them to come in with a good understanding of how to get a result.”
LA Galaxy vs. Comunicaciones
2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League
August 18 | 7 pm PT | StubHub Center
TV: Fox Sports 2
The Galaxy opened Group D play in the CONCACAF Champions Cup two weeks ago with a 5-1 massacre of Trinidad and Tobago's Central FC, but they expect a fiercer challenge from Comunicaciones. The Guatemala City giants have won the past six Liga Nacional titles – 31 first division crowns in all – and are a CCL regular, making their fifth appearance. They won a share of the old Champions' Cup in 1978, twice reaching the final during the '60s, but haven't advanced out of group play since beating Pumas UNAM to reach the quarterfinals of the 2009-10 tournament. LA has scored 33 goals in their last seven competitive games at StubHub; at least three in every outing and more than five on five occasions.
INTEGRATION AND CHEMISTRY: The Galaxy is focused on building connections within their new lineup following the arrivals of Steven Gerrard and Giovani Dos Santos –(who scored in his club debut, the aforementioned victory over Centra) and believe they won't be on all cylinders until next month. The proximity of this game to Saturday's at Dallas, played in energy-sapping heat, means coach Bruce Arena is likely to field a reserve-heavy lineup, as he did against Central, with the inclusion of few first-line players – likely forward Alan Gordon and defenderDan Gargan.
PRESEASON FORM: Comunicaciones dropped three Liga Nacional matches to begin the 2015 Apertura, two by shutout, before a 1-0 victory Saturday at Antigua GFC. Their preseason preparations were hindered by the Gold Cup, with 11 players joining their national teams (10 with Guatemala) for much of July, and they're still working toward appropriate form. Los Cremas posted some decent results in previous Champions League appearances, with home wins over Monterrey and Pumas UNAM, as well as draws against Club America, Pachuca and the Seattle Sounders. They are 3-8-0 in Champions League road games, with all three victories coming against Caribbean opposition.
HOME COOKING: The Galaxy are tough to beat at StubHub Center, with a 31-1-6 record (all games) since losing to Real Salt Lake in the 2014 MLS opener and a 60-8-10 mark since a loss to San Jose in May 2012. They're 7-0-0 in Carson, California, during Champions League play and have lost just three times to Central American foes, all on the road: Saprissa in the 2006 Champions Cup' quarterfinal second leg and in group play against Alajuelense in a 2011-12 and Isidro Metapan in 2013-14.
INJURY REPORT: The Galaxy are regaining their health, with forward/winger Jose Villarreal(knee) and midfielder Baggio Husidic (calf) training fully and defender Todd Dunivant (plantar fasciitis) running. Only Villarreal, who required a scope after hitting knees with an opponent in the July 11 International Champions Cup match against Club América, appears possible for this one, and that might be a stretch. Raul Mendiola and Bradford Jamieson IV are rehabbing after head injuries, and left back Robbie Rogers – unlikely to play anyway – is dealing with a knock from Saturday's win at FC Dallas.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
IGNACIO MAGANTO, LA GALAXY: The rookie attacker is receiving less time as LA has gotten healthier and added star power, but Maganato has made an impact when on the field. He's quick, heady and skillful, wielding superb vision and an ability to play anywhere among the front six – usually attacking from the flank.
ROLANDO BLACKBURN, COMUNICACIONES: The 25-year-old Panamanian striker scored 23 goals during his first year in Guatemala, including four during last year's group stage: a hat trick in the opening victory over Bayamon Puerto Rico and the equalizer in a draw with Club America, which went on to win the title. He's speedy and skillful, able to get behind backlines to finish. Gyasi Zardes and Omar Gonzalez are familiar with him: Blackburn played 87 minutes in the US national team's third-place clash with Panama last month at the Gold Cup, his only action in the tournament.