CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy were in command of Wednesday's CONCACAF Champions League semifinal opener against Monterrey until the final 15 minutes. Then it turned on them.
Late goals by Humberto Suazo and Aldo de Nigris carried the two-time defending tournament champions to a 2-1 triumph, and Bruce Arena was direct in laying blame.
“I thought for the majority of that game, our backline did a great job,” Arena said after his team fell behind heading into next week's second leg in Mexico. “And then they were very poor in the last 10 minutes. And perhaps the most important minutes of the game, arguably, and Monterrey was able to exploit us.”
Omar Gonzalez took the blame for de Nigris' stoppage-time winner. The Monterrey forward got behind him and had no problem finishing from Guillermo Madrigal's header off a chip from José María Basanta.
“Oh, man, I just fell asleep on that last play. It was pretty poor on my part, and I should have done better there,” Gonzalez said. “I saw the cross coming, saw it coming, but my body just wasn't moving. I've got to do better there. Just got to learn from it and, hopefully, it will never happen again.”
The Galaxy had Suazo and de Nigris under wraps for the first 70 or 75 minutes, but after Juninho departed with an ankle injury with about a half-hour to go, LA lost control of midfield, and Monterrey began surging forward to strong effect.
“I think for the first 75 minutes, we were doing great,” Gonzalez said. “We were being the aggressors, we were taking the game to them, and then Juninho gets hurt, we lose the midfield a little bit, they bring in some subs who were quality players who really changed the game for them, and they were putting in good crosses and playing in front of our face, and we couldn't really push our lines up to put pressure on them. I think that was the main part.”
It led to Suazo's goal in the 82nd minute, a rebound after goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini stopped de Nigris' goalmouth header, and then de Nigris netted the winner nine minutes later.
“I think we switched off,” Cudicini said. “I don't know if it was a physical problem, in terms of that maybe we expend a lot in the first half and the first part of the second half, but definitely in the last 15 minutes, we switched off.
“It's not defense. It's about the team in general. We could not keep the ball, and then they come up pretty strong and managed to create the chances and score. ... When you concede a goal, everyone's looking at the defense, but [Basanta] in midfield had all the time in the world to just put the ball behind the defense.”
Arena was critical of right back A.J. DeLaGarza, normally a center back, who ran himself ragged on the flank.
“I think he maybe showed some inexperience in that position, where maybe he ran himself into the ground, and perhaps it hurt us at the end of the game,” Arena said. “Our backline was tired. They didn't play the last 15, 20 minutes of the game in a smart manner. They needed to be much more solid.”
Said DeLaGarza: “He told me the same thing. We were just trying to keep playing until the last minute. We could have been a little smarter, obviously. It cost us the game.”