Coming out of last week’s scoreless draw against Santos Laguna in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series, the LA Galaxy had a lot to be happy about, frankly. They kept the series level, and on top of that, kept Santos off the board, all while playing their first competitive minutes of 2016.
But that was then. On Tuesday evening, it’s all to play for in Torreon, as Santos host LA in the return leg. The aggregate winner moves on to the CCL semifinals. The loser is out of the competition. It’s literally a must-win (ok, it could be a must-tie) game for the Galaxy.
The Galaxy have failed at this hurdle the last two times they were here, against Monterrey and Club Tijuana. And history is not on their side, as they have never won in Mexico in CONCACAF play. It will be their second competitive game of the year, and surely Santos will raise their intensity level to try and clinch advancement in the competition.
All that said, short of getting a win last week at the StubHub Center in the first leg, the Galaxy set themselves up nicely for this game. They are far from assured a place in the semifinals, but they are certainly not out of the running yet. And that caveat that they don’t even have to win improves their chances substantially — if they notch a draw in which they score, they will advance on the away goals tiebreaker.
And the players don’t appear to be intimidated about the occasion.
“We’re lucky we have players who have played in big games and in big tournaments. We have that experience and we thrive being in hostile atmosphere,” Galaxy captain Robbie Keane said to LAGalaxy.com. “Mexico will be a hostile place, but we’re ready for the challenge.”
There have been MLS teams in similar situations in CCL play in recent years after the first leg that then get blown away by Liga MX competition in the second leg. It is entirely possible the Galaxy could lose big on Tuesday and find the work from the first leg completely undone. But they have 90 minutes to show they are a different team, capable of making a true run. Win or lose, it won’t define their season. But passage to the next round will bolster hopes around the club that 2016 could be a special year for the Galaxy.