CARSON -- The Galaxy are in prime position to prevail in their CONCACAF Champions League series with Toronto FC, so long as fatigue doesn't sap their strength at the finish.
That's what happened in their Major League Soccer opener against Real Salt Lake, and for a club expert at focusing solely on the task at hand, they must admit Saturday night's defeat has a certain resonance.
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena took responsibility for the 3-1 loss, saying he should have given more players who featured in last week's quarterfinal first leg in Toronto the night off. Now, he says, he anticipates “heavily” changing his lineup for Wednesday night's decisive clash at Home Depot Center after giving nine players a full 90 minutes twice in the past week.
Might it just be gamesmanship?
“I think their coach has something in his mind and he wants to play what he thinks is the best team,” Toronto striker Danny Koevermans said Tuesday evening, following the Reds' session inside HDC. “If he has a big game in quarterfinal first leg, then you play your first team, like the best team he thinks there is, and if you got a home opener [three nights later], you can't do it to your own fans. You have to put in your best team.
“I think he'll do it tomorrow again. Maybe they will say we will rest some guys, but I don't believe it. Tomorrow is a huge game for them also, so I believe tomorrow will be the first XI again from the last two games.”
The Dutchman might be on to something. The Galaxy, even Arena, note that three days off between games, as opposed to two last week, is a massive difference. The magnitude of this game -- L.A. needs a victory or a low-scoring draw, 0-0 or 1-1, to advance to a semifinal showdown with rival Seattle Sounders or Mexican Primera Division leader Santos Laguna -- requires a bold move.
“I think the guys are OK, actually,” said captain Landon Donovan, who is healthier and stronger than he was a week ago. “There's a few guys who are probably tired, but we had the last two days to recover and today was an easy training session, and then I know guys are really excited for this game. No question it's tough, and we're at a disadvantage in that way, but I think guys are excited for the game. We'll be fine.”
Toronto FC, which scored twice in the first 17 minutes in last week's 2-2 draw at Rogers Centre in Canada's largest city, has a distinct advantage. While the Galaxy was battling one of their true challengers for MLS's trophies, the Reds were enjoying the weekend off.
“First of all in your preparations,” Donovan said when asked about TFC's edge. “The physical part is obvious. They get time to rest and recover. Your first game of the year is always a tough one; usually, your second, third, fourth, fifth games are some of your best games of the year because you're finally fit and you're fresh.
“But aside from that, they have the advantage of spending all week preparing for us. We were for the last four days preoccupied with Salt Lake, so now we have a quick turnaround to prepare. There's an advantage [for Toronto], but it's just part of it.”
The finish to Saturday's game still weighs on the Galaxy. They were up, 1-0, after Edson Buddle's header from David Beckham's cross in the 71st minute, but Sean Franklin netted an own goal two minutes later, and L.A. collapsed, conceding two more goals for its first HDC loss in 26 matches.
“It's motivation more than anything,” left back Todd Dunivant said. “We didn't finish off the game. We played 70 minutes well and then kind of let ourselves down. It was definitely disappointing, and we want to correct that.”
Donovan says “everyone's kind of champing at the bit” to get back on the field after that one, and even TFC's primary goal-getter noted how unjust the defeat was for the Galaxy.
“When they were 1-0 up, there was nothing to do with them. They were going to win it,” Koevermans said. “And then you what happens when the guy makes an own goal. Of course, he doesn't want to do it, but it's unlucky and then the game changes. And the second goal is unlucky. … They shouldn't have lost the game against Salt Lake, and we know that, and they have a great squad and a good team and we will see that again tomorrow.”
Arena said decisions on which team he sends out wil be “based on how the players are feeling. And we're going to put the best team we can on the field, and we're trying to win the game.”
If the Galaxy advance, they could field a reserve lineup in Sunday's league match against D.C. United at HDC. Even if they don't advance.
“If we beat them tomorrow, the people will say L.A. was fatigued …,” Koevermans said. “It's always the thing that you say [whether fatigue was an issue] when the game's done. Let's hope for us tomorrow they will say they were a little bit fatigued and we beat them.”
WORTH NOTING: Although attendance has been capped at 7,500, tickets are still available on the Galaxy's ticket site. … Fox Soccer Channel and Telefutura (KFTR/Channel 46) will telecast the game, which begins at 7 p.m. The Seattle-Santos game precedes it on both channels, with a 5 p.m. start. … A high-scoring draw in regulation -- 3-3 or more -- would send Toronto to the semifinals. A 2-2 draw would force 30 minutes of overtime, with penalty kicks to follow if nobody scores. If both teams net the same number of overtime goals, TFC would advance on the away-goals rule. … Arena, on having to play RSL between the two legs: “In the future, I'm going to be much more responsible for the schedule, and we as an organization, we have a protocol in place where we're not going to put ourselves in this position again.” … Dunivant said the “fatigue thing can be a little overblown. There won't be any excuses tomorrow.”
QUARTERFINALS, SECOND LEG
Monterrey (Mexico) 4, Morelia (Mexico) 1
+ Monterrey advances on aggregate, 7-2
Seattle Sounders (U.S.) at Santos Laguna (Mexico), 5 p.m.
+ Seattle won first leg, 2-1
Toronto FC (Canada) at Galaxy (U.S.), 7 p.m.
+ First leg was a 2-2 draw
Isidro Metapan (El Salvador) at Pumas UNAM (Mexico)
+ Isidro Metapan won first leg, 2-1