The LA Galaxy were kings of MLS in 2011. They won the Supporters' Shield then won MLS Cup at home, giving the team of stars the moment they had dreamed of since bringing in David Beckham to join Landon Donovan five years earlier, but that may only be a prequel to the real story in 2012.
Beckham and Donovan are back and Robbie Keane is on board for an entire season, while Edson Buddle and Juninho have also returned and Marcelo Sarvas has joined the squad. Instead of topping MLS, the Galaxy are thinking bigger now and trying to top all of CONCACAF by becoming the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League.
The Galaxy's first step in 2012 towards capturing the CONCACAF crown is a quarterfinal match-up against fellow MLS squad and Canada's lone representative, Toronto FC. Drawing the Reds looked like a favorable draw when it was done back in 2011, but as stacked as some feel the Galaxy team is, they will not be able to walk over their MLS counterparts. Instead of looking to put the two-legged tie away in Toronto on Wednesday, LA would be wise to try and get away with a draw and then go hunting for the win back home in the second leg because Toronto is no joke anymore.
Very quietly, Toronto played fantastic down the stretch in 2011 and further strengthened their team over the winter. Toronto lost just once in MLS play after August 25 last year and added a key win over Tauro in Champions League play, a draw against Pumas and then a win over FC Dallas to book their spot in the competition's quarterfinals.
The turnaround was largely due to the additions of Designated Players Torsten Frings in the midfield and Danny Koevermans up top, but the impact of Joao Plata cannot be ignored either. The diminutive winger slotted in on the left and became a real threat cutting in towards goal in Aron Winter's 4-3-3 system. He scored four times in Champions League play and added an assist as part of eight goal, nine assist debut campaign in Toronto.
With the way that Toronto's front three moves and the threat of their midfield three of Frings, Eric Avila and Julian de Guzman (although he is suspended for the first leg) to make late runs, the Galaxy could have a real problem at the back. Omar Gonzalez's knee injury leaves them without their leader at the back and tracking so many runners will be a challenge for A.J. DeLaGarza and Co. The Galayx may have the star power and Toronto's defense will certainly be challenged by LA's attack, but the Galaxy attack will have some problems of their own.
Toronto will also have the advantage of a huge crowd behind them. While it is freezing outside, Toronto and LA will take to the field inside Rogers Center, where a sellout crowd of about 45,000 is expected to be in attendance.
LA are undoubtedly the favorites and are eying more than just a berth in the semifinals, but they would be unwise to overlook Toronto in this quarterfinal match-up. Their failing to win any of their last four matches against the Reds -- all draws -- should tell them that. The Canadians are geared up for what should be their best season ever and they would undoubtedly like to put 45,000 fans and all of MLS on notice this Wednesday.