CARSON -- The Galaxy's failure to reach the knockout stage of the CONCACAF Champions League would be remembered primarily for the phantom offside call that cost them a would-be winning goal two weeks ago at Morelia.
If they do move on, it will be Wednesday's rematch with the Mexicans at Home Depot Center that will play largest in the tale -- it's the first truly must-win game L.A. has played this year, and they know what's waiting if victory escapes them.
“This is an elimination game,” captain Landon Donovan noted as the Galaxy (2-2-0) wrapped up preparations for their fifth Group A clash in the region's club championship. “If we lose the game, we're done.”
Well, nearly so, but if they win, they're probably through to next year's quarterfinals, one of the club's primary goals this season. That would require one more victory -- Oct. 20 against winless Motagua in Tegucigalpa, Honduras -- but any tiebreakers are going to favor L.A.
Morelia (3-1-0) will clinch a final-eight berth with a victory, and Costa Rican champion Alajuelense (3-1-0) could then grab the group's other spot with a win or draw Thursday against Motagua (0-4-0).
A draw would keep the Galaxy alive if Alajuela loses or ties Thursday, but they'd need help in the group finales from Morelia, which is home Oct. 18 against Costa Ricans.
“You don't want to deal with that,” Donovan said. “And it's unfortunate [we're where we are], because after two games we were in the power position. The third game [at Morelia] really hurt. The missed call really hurt us. And then playing a poor game [in last week's loss at Alajuelense] in the fourth game hurt us. So this becomes essential.”
The Galaxy will be without David Beckham, who is suspended after receiving his second yellow card of the tournament last week, and might be missing Robbie Keane, who is recovering from a gluteal injury and will be a game-time decision.
'ROBBED OF POINTS': Keane played a huge role in the first meeting with the Mexican club, scoring L.A.'s first goal and netting another in the 90th minute that should have provided a 2-1 lead. An errant offside call -- Keane was at least three yards onside -- erased the goal, and Miguel Sabah's finish two minutes later gave Morelia the victory.
“I think using the word 'we were cheated' is too strong a word, it's not fair,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “But we were robbed of points there. By anybody's imagination. That was very strange. It's been a strange tournament in terms of officiating for us.”
The Galaxy have absorbed odd decisions throughout group play. In the home win Aug. 25 over Alajuela, Beckham was yellow-carded because the linesman would not move out of his path to take a corner kick. Juninho was later sent off in a questionable decision.
There was Keane's goal at Morelia, and Omar Gonzalez picked up a nonsense yellow card last week in Costa Rica after Alajuela's vibrant crowd got into Jamaican referee Courtney Campbell's head.
Campbell's yellow-card decision on Beckham was borderline, but it wouldn't have mattered had the crew in August used common sense.
Teams often expect calls to go against them in hostile environments, but the Galaxy struggled with the officiating at home, too. It was curious that a Mexican trio worked the home game against Alajuela, and a Honduran/Costa Rican group were in charge at Morelia.
Arena says he doesn't “buy into that theory” that officials will favor home teams.
“I think that's just bad officiating,” he said. “Officials should be the same whether you're home or away.”
And they have been: “We got screwed at home as well,” he said. “It's bad officiating. There's no two ways about it, but it's all part of it. I saw this [as U.S. national team coach] in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying: the officiating's bad.”
Arena said Major League soccer's officials, who get a decent share of abuse from coaches, fans and critics, are “more consistent” than their CONCACAF counterparts.
NO SURPRISES: “There's too many phantom calls in this competition. It hasn't been good,” he said. “I don't know how else to explain it, but it hasn't been good. And it is all part of it, although I don't believe it should be, but that is CONCACAF.
“You experience that, and if you don't realize it's coming, then you're going to really be surprised, but it's something we told our team at the beginning of the tournament: The officiating is going to be bad.”
And worse, he says, is assigning officials to work games in groups involving clubs from their countries -- such as the Mexicans, Hondurans and the Costa Rican linesman who have worked the Galaxy's matches.
“That's Assignment 101 that they failed on miserably,” he said. “That's all part of it, but that kind of stuff they've got to get right. There are bad calls, unlucky calls at times everywhere, so that shouldn't surprise us. But I think some of those other things at the administrative level can be better -- there's no excuse for some of them.”
What's past is past, Donovan says.
“[Bad calls are] part of any game, any season, any tournament. Things happen,” he said. “Unfortunately, when you're only playing six games, it becomes amplified and magnified and even more crucial, so it's unfortunate. And the reality is it's over with, and we still have our destiny in our hands. If we win two games, we should be in. And that's what we're going to focus on.”
Said Arena: “I expect to win this game and be alive for game six. We're going to put it all past us. ... We've got to win. We know that. It's must-win, and we're well-aware of it.”
MEET THE MONARCAS: Morelia is 4-4-1, 13th in Mexico's Primera Division (with one fewer game played than everyone else except Santos), and coming off a 2-1 loss Sunday at Toluca, their first defeat in any competition since Aug. 16.
The Monarcas, who have a substantial following in Southern California, were 7-0-1 in the past month, benefiting from a dynamic attack starring Ecuadoran winger Joao Rojas and Mexican national-team pool forwards Sabah and Rafael Marquez Lugo -- and featuring eight different scorers of its eighth group-stage goals.
“They're not only talented individually, but they're a good team,” Donovan said. “They're well-coached, they play well together. I thought our performance down there was really good against them, given the circumstances, and we need a similar performance here.
“They played a day later than us [on the weekend], they had to travel, they played at high altitude in Toluca, so there's no excuses for us. I know we've played a lot of games, but if anyone has an advantage in that way, it's us. And we want to make that an advantage, make the game fast and get after them.”
WORTH NOTING: The Galaxy rested Keane, Beckham, left back Todd Dunivant and ailing No. 1 goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts in Saturday's 1-0 MLS victory at Columbus. Donovan and midfielder Mike Magee came off the bench in the second half. “Helps a lot,” Donovan said Tuesday. “I felt today as fresh as I have in a long time. And I think a lot of the guys felt the same.” ... Four Galaxy players face suspension with another yellow card in group play: Donovan, Magee, Gonzalez and outside back Bryan Jordan. ... Chris Birchall is questionable on MLS's injury report because of a hamstring strain sustained at Columbus, and Arena says he's day-to-day.