The Galaxy's Champions League game with Santos Laguna will be a chemistry test

The Galaxy's Champions League game with Santos Laguna will be a chemistry test
Galaxy forward Robbie Keane reacts during a game against Club Tijuana at StubHub Center on Feb. 9. (Harry How / Getty Images)

The Galaxy will be taking on more than just Mexican rival Santos Laguna on Wednesday when it plays its first competitive game of the new year at the StubHub Center (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1).

The game is the opener of a two-leg CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal playoff, and that means the Galaxy will be battling history as well. Mexican teams have won all seven Champions League titles since the 24-team regional soccer tournament changed formats in 2008.


Mexico has been so dominant, in fact, a Major League Soccer team has reached the Champions League final just twice in seven tries. And for that the Galaxy blames the calendar rather than the competition.

Although the tournament begins with group play in the summer, the knockout round isn't played until the early spring, when MLS teams are still in training camp and Liga MX teams are nearly halfway through their 17-game Clausura schedule.

"It's not a coincidence that the MLS teams go out in the quarterfinals," Galaxy captain Robbie Keane said.

"Are they going to be much fitter than us? Of course they are. That's just natural when you've played seven games and we haven't played a competitive game yet. The way the schedule works, it's certainly not suited for the MLS. But that is what it is, so we've have to get on with it."

The Galaxy will also be trying to find chemistry with a lineup featuring as many as seven starters who weren't with the team at this point last season. Chief among the newcomers are defenders Ashley Cole and Jelle Van Damme and midfielder Nigel de Jong, who combine to give the Galaxy a physical presence it lacked last season.

"We're still getting to know each other. We've got guys that have been here two weeks," said defender A.J. DeLaGarza, the only player remaining from Coach Bruce Arena's first full season with the Galaxy in 2009.

But, DeLaGarza added, "We should be able to compete and win these things."

MLS' Montreal franchise came close last season when it reached the two-leg final before losing to Club America of Mexico City. This year, for the first time under the new format, the tournament's final eight teams are split between the Liga MX and MLS, with four representatives from each side.

The Galaxy-Santos quarterfinal is a matchup of league champions, with the Galaxy qualifying for the tournament by capturing the MLS Cup in 2014 while Santos Laguna is the defending Clausura winner. Both teams have stumbled since winning those titles, though, with the Galaxy exiting last fall's MLS playoffs in the first round and Santos mired in the middle of the Liga MX standings.

The Galaxy and Santos will meet again in the playoff's second leg next week in Torreon, Mexico, where the quarterfinal winner will be determined by aggregate goals.

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11