Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Galaxy
By ADAM SERRANO
MORELIA, MEXICO – Three points were there for the taking, but errors in goal and by the officiating crew in the last 10 minutes proved disastrous for the Los Angeles Galaxy, who fell 2-1 to Monarcas Morelia in their CONCACAF Champions League match Tuesday night.
After a stellar goalkeeping performance making as many as seven saves on the night, Josh Saunders allowed an Adrian Aldrete shot from distance to slip between his legs for the equalizer. The bad lucky only continued in the 90th minute when Robbie Keane–who had scored the Galaxy’s first goal in the 52nd minute— was ruled offside on an apparent go-ahead goal.
According to replays after the match, the call was clearly incorrect as defender Gerardo Lugo clearly played Keane onside on the play. After the call, the Galaxy’s disaster culminated just a minute later when Miguel Sabah capitalized on poor marking on a corner kick to score the winning goal for Morelia. Following the match, Saunders was understandably gutted about the one moment even sheding a few tears after the match as one of his greatest nights turned into one of his worst.
“It’s disappointing for us to come down here and give up two goals late,” said Saunders. “We worked really hard and I feel gutted to have the situation that happened, questionable or not, it was still a mistake by me. The ref made a judgment call to call it a goal, I say otherwise, but that’s how the game goes. I commend the guys because they played extremely well tonight, but we couldn’t come away with the result.”
At the outset of the match, it was Morelia, who came out the more motivated side, capitalizing on a Galaxy team that appeared to be struggling with the altitude as well as the hostile atmosphere. With Ecuadorian left winger Joao Rojas leading the Morelia attack, the Monarcas peppered Saunders net with chances. Despite the lack of possession, it was the Galaxy with the finest chance of the half as in the 31st minute, Omar Gonzalez headed a ball off the cross bar that nearly into the Morelia net.
In the second half, the script switched as the Galaxy appeared to have more confidence dealing with Morelia’s advances. In the 52nd minute, Los Angeles broke through on the counter attack as Landon Donovan found Keane, who expertly went around Jorge Gastelum for the goal.
“We broke out a little bit and Robbie broke out well,” said Donovan. “I wanted to get it to him as quickly as possible. His first touch was great and then he did a good job to knock it around the guy and had a great finish.”
As the Galaxy took the lead, the chants in Morelos changed from “Vamos Morelia” (Go Morelia) to a more nationalistic slant as “Vamos Mexico” overtook the crowd. This support in the stands led to a response from the team as Morelia began to dominate possession and press Saunders for a goal.
In the 90th minute, Gonzalez smashed a header onto goal that forced a save from Morelia goalkeeper Federico Villar that appeared to lay stationary on the goal line. Keane raced onto the ball and fired it into the back of the net, seemingly giving the Galaxy the lead. However, moments later, the goal was called off as Honduran linesman Oscar Velasquez ruled the Irishman offside. According to replays following the match, Morelia’s Lugo was three yards in front of Keane as the ball was played to the Irish DP..
Just moments after their goal was called off, the night got worst as right back Frankie Hejduk was called for a foul setting up a free kick for Morelia, which led to two corners for Morelia. On the second corner, poor marking on the Galaxy’s part allowed Sabah to break free and head in the game winner.
“I don’t really know what happened, they just started coming at us late in the game, the first goal, they hit a shot outside and they got lucky,” said Gonzalez. “They didn’t get any chances from behind us, we kept us in front of us, and they just got that shot from outside the box that’s exactly what we wanted. It was anyone’s game and they sort of came back.”
The Galaxy is now tied with Morelia on points in group A with six, but Monarcas are on top due to their head-to-head advantage. The pair will return to Champions League action with the Galaxy traveling to Costa Rica to face Alajuelense on Sept. 21 while Morelia travel to Honduras to take on Motagua on Sept. 22.
Although the Galaxy departs Morelia with a loss, the impact of the atmosphere at the intimate Estadio Morelos clearly had an effect on Los Angeles. Following the match as the team pulled away, fans lined up to get in one last shot at the Galaxy with their middle fingers proudly in the air.
“It’s pretty impressive actually how much cache there is around our team now,” said Donovan. “Everybody knows who we are wherever we go. Most MLS teams come down here and people aren’t aware of who they are.”
Although the Galaxy was hated when on the field, their impact in the city of Morelia was unmistakable as Galaxy jerseys were sold and worn even in Morelia’s city center. Upon learning this fact, even the battle-hardened Donovan couldn’t help but be amused.
“It’s good, it’s putting our league in a good light and it’s a positive,” added Donovan.