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Galaxy weapons hold the key for success
When Real Salt Lake fell just minutes short of becoming the first Major League Soccer team to win a CONCACAF Champions League title a year ago, the disappointing result had the silver lining of feeling like a trailblazing step for MLS.
RSL's run didn’t end with a trophy, but it did help serve as evidence that a strong MLS team could play with CONCACAF’s best. It also helped instill some belief in MLS circles that it was only a matter of time before an MLS team was lifting the region's most important title.
Eleven months later, the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders, widely regarded as the two strongest and deepest teams in MLS, stand poised to blaze the trail paved by Real Salt Lake, and they both have the weapons to complete the task.
The Galaxy face a familiar foe in fellow MLS side Toronto FC in the Champions League quarterfinals in a series LA is heavily favored to win. Led by the attacking quartet of Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Edson Buddle, the Galaxy has the weapons to terrorize a Toronto back-line undergoing a state of reconstruction.
TFC can’t be completely written off. Not after knocking off FC Dallas in group play to advance to the knockout rounds. The Canadian club will host the first leg on Wednesday night at the Rogers Center (live on FOX Soccer, 8pm ET), a match expected to draw close to 50,000. That home-field edge may not mean much against a veteran side like the Galaxy, but it could help provide a boost of confidence for a team that is a clear-cut underdog.
Toronto has a puncher's chance, with some dangerous attacking weapons in Dutch striker Danny Koevermans and speedy Ecuadorian Joao Plata, as well as promising rookie playmaker Luis Silva. They will look to test a Galaxy defense still adjusting to life without injured star centerback Omar Gonzalez. Whether it is rookies Tommy Meyer and Bryan Gaul, or veteran Andrew Boyens, whoever fills in Gonzalez's vacant spot will be seen as the weak link in LA’s defense, and the player TFC will try to exploit.
The Galaxy will be tempted to push numbers forward at Toronto’s defense, but with this being a two-leg series, Los Angeles might be inclined to play a defend-and-counter style in the road leg. While that may be the plan, LA’s high-powered offense should find chances against a TFC defense integrating new signings Geovanny Caidedo and Miguel Aceval.
The battle in midfield should be a good one, with Silva and Torsten Frings clashing with David Beckham and Juninho. The absence of Julian de Guzman and Nick Soolsma will hurt TFC in the first leg, but Toronto still has enough quality in the middle to make it a good battle.
Seattle's quarterfinal challenge is much tougher than the Galaxy’s. The Sounders must knock off Mexican power Santos Laguna in the most highly-anticipated match-up of the quarters (first leg live on FOX Soccer, 10pm ET). Santos features former Barcelona midfielder Marc Crosas, who will face a stiff test in midfield from Seattle standout Osvaldo Alonso, who must contain the Spanish playmaker to help keep the high-powered Santos attack from running wild.
Seattle will be banking on its own dangerous offense being able to generate chances and goals. The addition of Eddie Johnson to an already stacked attack led by Mauro Rosales and Fredy Montero should mean plenty of problems for the Santos defense and goalkeeper Osvaldo Sanchez.
Sigi Schmid is likely to see his team take on a familiar face in American striker Herculez Gomez. The Santos Laguna forward is expected to play in place of injured star Darwin Quintero, and comes in having scored goals in his past two matches. Gomez played for Schmid on the 2005 MLS Cup-winning Los Angeles Galaxy and should form a dangerous partnership with striker Oribe Peralta. The duo combined for five goals on the weekend and will look to test a Sounders defense that has looked sharp in pre-season, but has not faced an attack nearly as potent as Santos Laguna’s.
This is all assuming Santos Laguna sends out a full-strength squad to face the Sounders. In years past, Mexican teams have often chosen to rest some of their best players in order to keep them fresh for Mexican League play, but the growing success MLS teams have had in the Champions League, and against Mexican teams, should ensure that Santos trots out a strong team when the sides open their quarterfinal series at CenturyLink Field on Wednesday.
If an MLS team is to lift the trophy, or even reach the final as Real Salt lake did last year, one of the MLS teams will have to beat Santos Laguna and likely a second Mexican team to do so. We are talking a much more difficult road to the title than Real Salt Lake tried to navigate in 2011. There are no two teams in MLS better equipped to face such a tough challenge as the Galaxy and Sounders are, and there is no reason to think that one of those teams can’t become the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the US National Team.
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