Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
The LA Galaxy are looking like a team that is ready to kick things into high gear, and they could not have asked for a much better time to do so.
Fresh off a 4-2 victory over Western Conference leaders Real Salt Lake, the Galaxy have quickly turned their sights towards the start of their 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League campaign. The Galaxy host Costa Rican club Cartagines at StubHub Center on Tuesday night, and the Group 8 match is essentially a must-win for Los Angeles.
Normally, circumstances like that do not occur until the later rounds of group play, but such is the fickle nature of this tournament. Cartagines already won their group opener earlier this month against El Salvador’s Isidro Metapan, which means the Galaxy need to pick up all three points at home on Tuesday in order to avoid having to play catch-up in their remaining three group games.
That leaves Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena with some tough lineup decisions to make. Does he start regulars like Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, each of whom have scored hat-tricks in the past two weeks, against Cartagines, or does he give them a rest ahead of the home stretch in the MLS season and bank on a younger side being able to get the job done?
Another coach facing a similar scenario is Houston Dynamo boss Dominic Kinnear. The Dynamo beat the Seattle Sounders, 3-1, over the weekend and will now be looking to knock off W Connection on Tuesday night at Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
Houston is in the thick of things in the jam-packed Eastern Conference, so resting some starters might be wise. But the Dynamo will be playing against a W Connection team desperate for a victory after losing in Panama to Group 1 leaders Arabe Unido on Aug. 8, and that might force Kinnear to start the likes of Brad Davis and Bobby Boswell.
Even if the Houston coach doesn’t, the Dynamo believe they currently boast the deepest team they have had in recent years, which may indicate that bench players like Brian Ching receive the nod on Tuesday.
The Montreal Impact are not playing in their first group match, but that does not mean their Wednesday clash against Heredia is any less important. The Impact, who just defeated D.C. United 2-1 on Saturday, can have one foot in the door for the knockout stage if they can go on the road and knock off the Guatemalan club on Wednesday night.
Montreal is on top of Group 5 after beating the San Jose Earthquakes and another win would give them six points from two games while leaving both of their group stage foes with zero. The Impact also have to weight starting their regulars, reserves or a combination of both, but Montreal head coach Marco Schallibaum might be tempted to go with his normal starters now so as to possibly have the luxury of resting players in the later group games.
Another game in this week’s round of CONCACAF Champions League action of particular interest is Group 7’s duel between Tijuana and Victoria on Tuesday. The Xolos will visit El Salvador’s Victoria and are likely to rely upon starters like Edgar Castillo and Joe Corona as they try to add the point they picked up in their scoreless draw vs. Luis Angel Firpo nearly two weeks ago.
OTHER CCL MATCHES THIS WEEK:
Group 2: Real Esteli vs. Olimpia on 8/21
Group 3: Cruz Azul vs. Herediano on 8/22
Group 4: Sporting San Miguelito vs. Alajuelense on 8/22
Group 6: Comunicaciones vs. Toluca on 8/22
What do you think of these matches? Which are you most looking forward to? Do you see the Galaxy and Dynamo starting off group play with wins? How do you think the Impact and Tijuana will fare?
Share your thoughts below.