Photo by Michael Janosz/ISIphotos.com
By ADAM SERRANO
CARSON, Calif.— The Los Angeles Galaxy have played in a number of big matches this season, but all are dwarfed when compared to Wednesday's match against Monarcas Morelia in the CONCACAF Champions League.
With a victory over Morelia at the Home Depot Center (10 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel) the Galaxy would join the Mexican club and Alajuelense with nine points in a top-heavy Group A (Alajuelense could pull ahead on Thursdsay). L.A. would then need to follow that up with a victory over last-place and point-less Club Motagua in Honduras on Oct. 20 to advance to the knockout stage. A tie or loss on Wednesday would necessitate nothing short of a miracle in order for the Galaxy to advance to the quarterfinals.
After dropping the last two matches in group play and moving from first place to third, the Galaxy understand that they will be playing for their tournament lives.
"We feel like we deserved better out of the two road games, and we want to make sure that we make amends for some poor play in the last game and some misfortune in the last few games," said Galaxy captain Landon Donovan. "This is a must-win. There's no question that we have to win if we want to advance, so we're going to put everything into it."
Morelia arrives in Los Angeles in the midst of a great run of form. On Sunday, Monarcas dropped a league match on the road to Toluca, their first loss since falling to Alajuelense on Aug. 16. Led by dynamic Ecaudorian winger Joao Rojas as well as Mexican forwards Miguel Sabah and Rafael Marquez Lugo, Morelia was 7-0-1 in all competitions prior to the Toluca loss.
Los Angeles has not forgotten about the last time that these two teams faced off two weeks ago at the Estadio Morelos. In what was a highly competitive affair, Morelia scored two goals in the last 10 minutes to defeat the Galaxy, 2-1. However, it was not the Galaxy's collapse that earned headlines, but a stoppage-time goal by Robbie Keane that was ruled offside by Honduran linesman Oscar Velasquez. Following the match, replays showed that Keane was nearly three yards onside at the time of the call.
"Using a word that we were cheated is too strong a word, but we were robbed of points there," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. "By anyone's imagination, that was very strange and it's been a strange tournament in terms of officiating for us, but we're still in position to play on, so we're going to give it our best shot."
Officiating has been a major cause for concern for the Galaxy during their four previous games in the Champions League. Whether it was Juninho's dubious red card against Alajuelense or a delayed yellow card to David Beckham last week that led to his suspension for the upcoming Morelia match, officiating questions have often eclipsed the game of late for Los Angeles.
On Wednesday, the task of officiating will fall to Salvadorian referee Joel Aguilar, who served as the referee for the 2011 Gold Cup Final. Aguilar will bring an all-Salvadorian crew for the match, a move that could bring some comfort to Arena, who has criticized CONCACAF for their refereeing assignments earlier in the tournament.
"They assigned a Honduran and a Mexican crew in a group where we have a Honduran or a Mexican team. That's Assignment 101 that they failed miserably," Arena said. "That kind of stuff they got to get right. There are bad calls and unlucky calls everywhere, that shouldn't surprise us, but some of the stuff at the administrative level could be better. Having said that, I expect to win this game and be alive for Game 6. We're going to put it all past us."
The Galaxy will need to put the officiating past them as they have a number of question marks heading into the match. Already without Beckham due to suspension, Keane (right gluteus tightness) and Chris Birchall (left hamstring strain) remain day-to-day and were not present for training on Tuesday.
Should Keane and Birchall be unavailable, it is likely that Arena will turn to Chad Barrett and Paolo Cardozo, who both logged heavy minutes in Costa Rica last week. Although several key players may be absent, the Galaxy are ready to give it their all in a match vital for their continental ambitions.
"This is an elimination game," Donovan said. "If we lose the game, then we're done, and fortunately this group has been through a number of games in the last few years, so that experience will help. We have guys that have played in games like that so we're going to get after it."