The nebulous CONCACAF Champion's League got a lot clear today, as matchdays and venues were set for the Group stages. The Los Angeles Galaxy will host either Motagua of Honduras or Municipal of Guatemala on Tuesday August 16th at 7pm. Then on the second matchday in August, Thursday August 25th, the Galaxy will host Alajuelense of Costa Rica.
Motagua qualified for the tournament by winning the 2011 Clausura of the Honduran Liga Nacional, and are lead by forme MLS All-Stars Ivan Guerrero and Amado Guevara, forward Jerry Bengtson and former Galaxy midfielder Guillermo Ramirez, memorable for scoring the winning goal in the 2005 MLS Cup. Municipal qualified for Champion's League by finishing second in both the 2010 Apertura and the 2011 Clausura of Guatemala’s Liga Nacional de Futbol. This is Municipal's first ever game in the Preliminary Round, while Motagua lost in the Prelims last year.
Alajuelense lost just five times in the 2010-11 Primera Division, defeating Herediano in the Invierno championship and then San Carlos for the Verano championship. They feature several members of the Costa Rican national team, including defenders Johnny Acosta, Allen Guevara and Jose Salvatierra.
The good news for the Galaxy is that they won't face arguably their tough opponent, Morelia (who is all but guaranteed to win their Preliminary match up) in August. However, it's not as if anyone in the Galaxy's group is a pushover. Motagua would be considered their easiest opponent, but it's unlikely Municipal goes down in their play in bracket. Motagua lost in the Preliminary Round last year, 3-2 to Toronto FC. Still, getting to host the first two matches of Group Stage, and facing beatable competition, could give the Galaxy a solid leg up in the competition.
The other issue, of course, is fitness. The week of the first match the Galaxy face San Jose on Saturday, however they will have ten days of rest from their previous match. The second match is awfully scheduled, with the Galaxy facing New York in New Jersey three days later. While every point is precious in MLS, it's the New York game that the Galaxy have to consider sending a mixed squad to.
The Champions League is vital to the success of MLS. It's one thing to be a summer holiday spot for European clubs, it's a completely different thing to have the respect of teams in the region. Lost in the summer friendly hoopla is the fact that MLS clubs already have a place to prove themselves against international competition. As evidenced by the continued expansion into Canada, MLS recognizes that it's not enough to build American soccer. It's a North American effort and Mexico is way ahead. The satisfaction of catching up to Mexico is way more gratifying (and let's face it, realistic) than trying to measure up to European powers.
That's way more than I intended to write. Gold Cup Final is still fresh for me, I guess. Anyhow, what do you think about the Galaxy's chances in Champion's League, and the relative importance of the competition.