FOX Soccer Exclusive
LA Galaxy revisits old tourney demons
SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA
With the start of every season comes a sense of a clean slate. What happened the year before and beyond is wiped away and hope for success is renewed. Well, most of the time.
The Los Angeles Galaxy will face Herediano in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals this year (live, FOX Soccer, Thursday, 8 p.m. ET), arguably a tougher opponent than Toronto FC was last year – especially considering the fervor that was waiting for them in Costa Rica.
On this day last year, a star-studded LA Galaxy team fought back from a two-goal deficit to draw against Toronto in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. But a week later in the second leg – on their home field, no less – LA found themselves on the losing end, and their lofty dreams of being crowned the region’s best were dashed.
Disappointment. Frustration. Dreams of the Club World Cup crushed. The team’s failure in the CONCACAF Champions League against a side they were supposed to dispatch easily was a tough pill to swallow. Their tourney hangover lasted for the first three months of the 2012 MLS season, during which the Galaxy only managed to secure three wins – a start that seemed to doom the team’s league ambitions as well.
"Last year we had high hopes for this competition, and I think starting our season off by losing to [Toronto] kind of set us back for the next month or so," Mike Magee said of the start to 2012.
The Galaxy had big aspirations for 2012 – they aimed for success in CONCACAF's Champions League and US Open Cup, while also defending their MLS Cup title. If this feat was accomplished, LA would be the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League, making it the pinnacle of this treble. The expectations placed on the team during pre-season were ambitious, but certainly not unrealistic considering the caliber of the team LA had assembled. "We had a great team last year, and we were expected to win and we didn’t," defender Sean Franklin said.
And while LA did eventually end up repeating as MLS Cup Champions, for some, the CONCACAF Champions League loss definitely still stings.
"We put so much work into it the year before. Our intention was to win it last year and then to go out at home left an extremely bad taste in our mouths," Magee said. "So we’re definitely really committed to this competition."
Now, a year later, LA are back in the quarterfinals, looking to redeem themselves.
"We’re developing as a club and we think we should be able to compete successfully in international competition," Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. "How we get here, how we play; all of that stuff is important. It’s an organizational challenge, not only for players and coaches but then return next week to create an atmosphere that’s favorable for our team to be successful. It’s all part of it."
When the team first arrived in Costa Rica, they were given a not-so-friendly welcome upon exiting the airport. A small contingent of Herediano diehards showed up, chanting obscenity-laced songs at the Galaxy players. It was a little taste of what awaits the team at the intimate Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero on Thursday night.
"It’s quite hostile," captain Robbie Keane said of the environment LA will face. "Obviously the stadium is fairly small, so you’ll be able to hear everything that the fans are saying. Luckily I don’t understand Spanish so it’s quite easy for me."
Playing in a stadium as intimate as El Rosabal – a tiny venue with a capacity of 8,000 – requires a special level of composure. If you understand the chants being hollered at you, it can get downright nasty. Being yelled at by thousands of fans who are right on top of you in a foreign language can be intimidating. They are uniquely passionate; mix that with the charged environment and drama created by the tournament, and LA is walking into a lion’s den.
"They’re going to be pumped playing in front of their fans and their stadium," Franklin said. "You’ve just got to be sharp, we don’t want to concede too much. This is a two leg series, so it’s all about being smart."
The Galaxy are well aware of the perils of the quarterfinal stage, no matter how much confidence they have. They learned that lesson a year ago and now, 51 weeks after suffering their CONCACAF Champions League anguish, they have an opportunity to permanently erase any lingering pain.
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