MORELIA, Mexico — Everything was set up for a heroic finish.
Josh Saunders had played a stellar match in goal for the LA Galaxy against Monarcas Morelia in a CONCACAF Champions League match on Tuesday. Shot after shot, save after save, Morelia could not get anything past the Galaxy ‘keeper.
But fate saw that things finished differently. With the Galaxy ahead 1-0 in the 82nd minute, Adrián Aldrete ripped a shot on goal, the same kind Saunders turned away time and again in the early going. This time, though, the ball hit Saunders’ hands and rolled past him and towards the goal line. Saunders covered up but the ball was ruled to have crossed the line.
Minutes later, Miguel Sabah put an exclamation mark on Saunders’ miserable ending as Morelia stole the match by a 2-1 final.
“We worked really hard and I feel gutted to have the situation that happened, questionable or not, it was still a mistake by me,” Saunders told reporters after the match. “The ref made a judgment call to call it a goal; I say otherwise, but that’s how the game goes.”
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Aldrete’s goal was a close goal-line call and so, too, was a goal that did not stand later in the match. Robbie Keane knocked a ball into the back of the net late in the game that would have given the Galaxy the lead right back but the Irish Designated Player was inexplicably ruled to have been in an offside position.
With calls seemingly going against LA, the officiating was just another factor that aided the hosts.
“The refs were under pressure, you’re playing in Mexico, which is always difficult from refs because they’re under pressure from the crowd," Saunders said, "but still we shouldn’t have given up the goals that we did."
Perhaps the first thing that aided Morelia in their comeback was allowing them to fire so many balls at Saunders.
“When you have that many shots against you, something can go wrong,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said.
Although Aldrete’s shot squeezed past Saunders, Galaxy players were not pointing fingers at their ‘keeper. After all, he performed admirably in Donovan Ricketts’ absence and will likely be counted on in games down the stretch, whether it be in league play or Champions League matches.
“He was great and nobody faults him.” Donovan said. “He wants that one back for sure but everybody makes mistakes. He’s been around long enough [to know how to handle the fallout]. You want to make sure that goal doesn’t affect the rest of the year. It’s over. It’s behind us.”
One thing that may help Saunders shake off whatever potential negative feelings he will have is to play again as soon as possible. The Galaxy will host Vancouver, a team that Saunders had shut out in a 4-0 victory in July, on Saturday at The Home Depot Center.
Would playing against the Whitecaps be a potential boon for Saunders?
“Oh yeah, but it’s one of those things that we’ll have to see how it goes in training,” he said. “[Ricketts] came in and played extremely well [against Colorado last Friday]. He’s great to have as a teammate — if he plays, I’ll support him 100 percent, and if I play, then it’ll be great to get back out there. Getting on the field is big ... but it’s not going to be a massive difference for me.”