LA Galaxy, Club Tijuana battle for regional supremacy in CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal

Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane hope to lead LA Galaxy past Club Tijuana in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal tie.

Chris Nicoll/Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Symbolism matters in the battle for southern California. LA Galaxy and Club Tijuana jockey for promising youth players and wrangle for the hearts and minds of potential supporters. It is an ongoing tussle with no end in sight.

The first competitive meeting between the two clubs (10:00p.m. ET, FOX Sports Plus) offers a chance to establish bragging rights and reinforce claims to superiority. It is not a task the Galaxy takes lightly.

“We’re all excited about it,” Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan said during the MLS media and marketing tour last month. “We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be fun for the fans, for sure. It’s a really important match for our league. We all understand that very clearly.”

Donovan and his Galaxy teammates harbor genuine hopes of turning Tijuana over in the tie and working their way into a semifinal against Cruz Azul or Sporting Kansas City. This Xolos side boasts U.S. internationals Edgar Castillo, Joe Corona and Herculez Gómez, but it isn’t the same outfit that won the Apertura in 2012 under the guidance of current Club América boss Antonio Mohamed.

Tijuana meandered through a fallow period when Mohamed departed after the Xolos’ Copa Libertadores run last year. Former Venezuela manager César Farias took charge prior to the Clausura after the Xolos missed out on the Liguilla in the fall, but his side still lacks the cohesiveness and the fluidity fostered during the Mohamed era.

Former Galaxy striker Herculez Gómez relishes the opportunity to play against MLS sides in the Champions League.

The adjustment period creates an opening for the Galaxy, but Tijuana still poses a significant threat nevertheless. Farias possesses enough talent at his disposal to craft a unique game plan – he has fielded five defenders on occasion this season – and devise a way to exploit the Galaxy’s lack of match fitness during the early stages of the MLS campaign.

In this critical first leg, the Galaxy must ally the menace displayed at points in the 1-0 defeat to Real Salt Lake on Saturday with sharpness in the final third. This competition does not forgive missed opportunities to pounce – a point made painfully aware to San Jose in its 1-1 draw with Toluca on Tuesday – or frailties in the defensive third.

“We have to be spot on,” Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez said last month. “We have to make sure our game is tight in our second game of the year. That’s a little tough. But, hopefully, what we’ve been doing in the preseason will help us along. Early on in the season, you have silly mistakes that happen. Hopefully, that won’t happen to us this year.”

If the Galaxy can avoid those potentially fatal missteps at home, then this veteran side could take a vital lead down to Estadio Caliente next Tuesday. It is an advantage the Galaxy desperately requires to bolster its hopes in the tie and eventually emerge victorious in this fraught battle against their regional rivals.

“They’re a good team – there’s no question – but we feel like they’re a team we can beat,” Donovan said. “It’s not going to be easy. Nobody goes there recently and wins. It’s going to take something special. We know that. But I think it’s really important. There are 130 miles, I think, between the two cities. It may never happen again. Who knows. We want to make sure we take advantage of it.”