It was all in hand for the Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday night,
Hosting Mexico’s C.F. Monterrey in the first leg of its semifinal matchup of the CONCACAF Champions League Tournament, LA got a first half strike from AJ DeLaGarza and took the lead well into the second half. A one-goal lead going into next week’s second leg in Monterrey seemed to be well in hand for the Galaxy.
Monterrey however displayed the fortitude that had enabled them to win this tournament the last two years inside the final 10 minutes, as goals from Humberto Suazo and Aldo De Nigris propelled them to a comeback 2-1 win at the Home Depot Center on Wednesday night and thus makes LA’s situation a whole lot tougher going into the second leg.
“We actually played a very good game tonight,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “A little more experience and a little more quality and we win this game by a couple of goals. Credit to Monterrey for their quality and playing the full 90 minutes.
LA grabbed the lead in the 28th minute when striker Jose Villarreal sprinted into the 18-yard box, then played a ball to fellow striker Robbie Keane. Keane then floated a ball into the six-yard box towards midfielder Mike Magee, whose header then went to AJ DeLaGarza and the Right Back flicked a ball off his back-heel past keeper Juan de Dios Ibarra into the back net.
LA took the lead deep into the second half, but just when it looked like Los Angeles would take an all-important one-goal lead into Monterrey next week, the visitors erupted. Monterrey pushed across the equalizer in the 82nd minute, as De Nigris headed a ball towards goal, it was denied by keeper Carlo Cudicini, but the ball went to the feet of Suzao, who immediately shot for goat. Suazo shanked a first attempt, but the ball stayed at his feet and the striker did not miss a second time, sending the ball past Cudicini to even the score.
“We were tired and they (Monterrey) were pushing numbers forward,” DeLaGarza said. “They were getting after it, they knew they had to get a goal back, and all that wore us out.”
Monterrey wasn’t done yet, and pushed ahead just as stoppage time loomed, as Luis Guillermo Madrigal sent a ball into the penalty area, De Nigris brought the ball down, then sent a shot past Cudicini into the back net for the go-ahead goal.
“You just have to be able to find the right time to turn it around on the field,” Monterrey head coach Victor Manuel Vucetich said of Monterrey’s comeback. “It’s not like you concentrate all your efforts on one part of the actual match, you have to play the full 90 minutes to win the match.”
The Galaxy played well in the first half, getting its first chance in the 18th minute, as Magee bended a ball towards goal, but was parried away by Ibarra. LA had chances to add to its lead, the first coming in the second half as Keane laid a ball just outside the six for midfielder Sean Franklin, but could not convert the point-blank chance. LA had another chance to make it a two-goal game in the 67th minute when Magee took a Michael Stephens thrown-in, sprinted for the penalty area and laid a ball for an unmarked Keane, but Ibarra just managed to parry away Keane’s shot.
The momentum though began to swing towards Monterrey, starting in the 61st minute when midfielder Juninho had to leave the match after a hard collision resulted in an injured ankle, not that Monterrey wasn’t already pressing before then. Monterrey was almost gifted a goal in the 52nd minute, as Suazo pounced on a giveaway and broke for goal. Suazo fired away, but was turned back by Cudicini. De Nigris also had a chance at goal, his coming in the 75th minute, but his header just missed the back post.