The Los Angeles Galaxy have been the best club in MLS over the last two full seasons, winning the 2010 Supporters' Shield and sitting atop the table this year. Their defense is strong enough that they got a shutout despite using a field player in goal for 47 minutes, and they didn't miss a beat while Landon Donovan was playing for the United States in the Gold Cup or while David Beckham was jetting off for, er, weddings and a friendly with his buddy Gary Neville. No matter the reasons or the obstacle, the Galaxy always seem to find a way to get the result they want.
Their reward for last season's stellar campaign is a spot in what will be the CONCACAF Champions League's group of death. LA will almost certainly not avoid Mexican opposition, the other qualifier for the group will be among Central America's giants, and Costa Rican champions Liga Deportiva Alajuelense is the group's weakest team. In any other group LDA would be optimistic about advancing; here, they're arguably the easy game.
Alajuelense is seeded into the group with LA, so we'll start with them. Unlike Deportivo Saprissa, who normally end up representing Costa Rica in the CCL, LDA doesn't have a litany of national team players suiting up in their red and black stripes. However, young defender Jose Salvatierra turned heads for Costa Rica in the recent Gold Cup (as well as the Copa America), while his teammate for club and country Jhonny Acosta was also first-choice in central defense. Going forward, the danger will come from creative forward Alejandro Alpizar and shifty striker Minor Diaz.
Morelia now sees themselves as the group favorite after easily advancing out of the preliminary round. Los Canarios have stocked themselves with a bevy of players with CCL experience: goalkeeper Federico Vilar, forward Rafael Marquez Lugo (both with Atlante), striker Miguel Sabah, midfielder Jaime Lozano, wide man Edgar Lugo, defender Joel Huiqui (all with Cruz Azul), and playmaker Damian Manso (Pachuca) have all played important roles in this tournament. Morelia may have trouble rotating their squad in the manner that Pumas UNAM or Cruz Azul have done in the past, but they still have more than enough talent to be LA's main competition in the race to win the group.
Motagua, the group's final qualifier, is coached by Ramon "El Primitivo" Maradiaga, who has coached the national teams of both Honduras and Guatemala along with assorted Central American clubs. He has a strong squad to call upon, including striker Jerry Bengtson (who is currently first-choice for Honduras). There is also experience in the form of ex-MLS players Ivan Guerrero, Milton Reyes, and especially Amado Guevara, who is a talismanic figure for the club. Intriguingly, Guillermo "El Pando" Ramirez - also a former MLS player - will be facing a Municipal side he played for in last year's CCL.
The bottom line on this group is that LA will get out of it what they put into it. If the Galaxy prioritize their pursuit of another Supporters' Shield and the MLS playoffs, they will likely send out reserves and find themselves with little hope of advancing. However, if LA can field a strong side in their home games - that means you have to play, Becks - the Galaxy should advance over Alajuelense and Motagua. A shot at first would not be out of the question, either, though it will be tough to overcome having one home game turn into a 50/50 split (or worse) when Morelia visits. We'll find out where this organization's priorities are when we see their lineup for their opening match.