[CCL Preview: San Jose Earthquakes-Toluca]Easing into the 2014 season isn’t an option for San Jose, which on Tuesday kicks off a rough run of four games in 12 days after sitting out the opening weekend of league play.
First up is the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals against Toluca of Mexico, which is one of three series that pair MLS teams with Liga MX opposition. On Wednesday, league champion Sporting Kansas City hosts current Liga MX leader Cruz Azul and the Galaxy kicks off a border clasico with Tijuana at StubHub Center. The second legs will be played next week in Mexico.
“Our national team’s done well against Mexico,” says Galaxy president Chris Klein, who has negotiated with adjoining Cal State Dominguez Hills an expanded weekday capacity of 17,500 for the showdown with Tijuana. “Now our club teams have to prove that we can do the same thing.”
Toluca is second in Liga MX with a record of seven wins, one tie and only two losses in 10 games, three points behind leader Cruz Azul, and has conceded just five goals in those 10 games. Paraguayan striker Pablo Velasquez has scored that number of goals himself to lead a roster of current and former internationals. He is a reminder of team’s glory days when another Paraguayan, Jose Cardozo, set the club’s all-time scoring record by hitting the net 249 times from 1995 to 2005.
Velasquez is one of four Paraguayans on the current Toluca roster. Defender Paulo da Silvais the team captain and forward Edgar Benitez has scored two league goals. (Midfielder Richard Ortiz hasn’t made a league appearance in the 2014 Clausura.)
Three players – Wilson Tiago, Raul Navaand Carlos Esquivel– hit the target Friday night in Toluca’s 3-0 league win over Puebla, for which U.S. internationals DaMarcus Beasleyand Michael Orozcoboth started. Following its Tuesday season opener, San Jose hosts Real Salt Lake on Saturday, heads to Mexico for the second leg, then travels to Kansas City to take on the defending league champion.
San Jose coach Mark Watson, under whose leadership last year the team posted a 11-5-1 record and fell just short of the playoffs, has been tinkering with the team’s attack leading up to this early quartet of tests. Portuguese winger Yannick Djalo has been signed on loan from Benfica and could play this weekend against RSL if his paperwork clears on time.
In Toluca, the Quakes not only face a dangerous team but also the very poor track record of MLS teams against Mexican foes in head-to-head competition. It figures to be about as tough challenge as a team could face right out of the box.
“That’s what we’re gearing up for and [getting] ready for,” forward Chris Wondolowski told MLSSoccer.com.. “I think it’s a great test, just kind of see where we are. It’s definitely going to be a big battle, but I love those.”
Concacaf Champions League:
QUARTERFINALS, First Leg
Alajuelense (CRC) 0 Arabe Unido (PAN) 0
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Toluca (MEX)
TV: 10 pm ET on Fox Sports 2 and UDN.
Sporting KC vs. Cruz Azul (MEX)
TV: 8 pm ET on Fox Sports 2 and UDN.
LA Galaxy vs. Tijuana (MEX)
TV: 10 pm ET on Fox Soccer Plus and Galavision.