MORELIA, Mexico – The game was there for the taking. The LA Galaxy had three points within reach Tuesday night and were just about to take a commanding lead atop Group A of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Instead, disaster struck. Adrián Aldrete and Miguel Sabah took advantage of two mistakes by Josh Saunders. Morelia stole the match from the Galaxy with a 2-1 victory over a stunned Galaxy squad.
“It was pretty disappointing,” Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez said. “Ten minutes left in the game and we were trying to get three points and we positioned ourselves well over 80 minutes, but we lacked that final drive in the last 10 minutes and it hurt us.”
Estadio Morelos was a tricky venue, sitting at 6,000 feet above sea level, and that made things difficult from the start of the match.
“The biggest part was the altitude, which was pretty bad," Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza said. “We were in position the whole time and not getting out of position and having to track back, but I thought defensively we were in good shape and should have gotten three points.”
The Galaxy may have struggled with the altitude, but they played their game, handling Morelia's pressure and the electric atmosphere in the stadium. David Beckham’s anticipated presence at the match ultimately did not happen, much to the locals’ dismay. In his absence, Landon Donovan was a lightning rod for the Monarcas faithful, who serenaded the US international with jeers, vulgar language and obscene gestures any time he touched the ball.
It was one of Donovan's touches, though, that seemed to set the Galaxy up for a famous win. His long ball from the left side found Robbie Keane early in the second half, and the Irishman did the rest.
“We broke out a little bit and Robbie broke out well,” Donovan said. “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.”
The goal though ultimately did not stand. In the 82nd minute, Aldrete lined up a 20-yard rocket on goal. Saunders had the ball in front of him, knocked it to the ground and tried to cover it up but couldn’t.
“I’m not a goalie, but it may have knuckled on him,” DeLaGarza said, adding, “you never with these balls.”
Keane nearly had a go-ahead goal when he pushed a ball that was on the goal line across but he was ruled to have been in an offside position.
“We were unlucky with the offside,” Keane said. “It didn’t look offside. I didn’t think I was offside, but I have to look back to see that.”
Disaster struck in stoppage time, though, as Sabah headed in a corner kick for the match winner.
Three points for the Galaxy, who won their first two group-stage matches, would've put the MLS side in great position to reach the knockout rounds of the Champions League. Instead, they face the possibility of going to Costa Rican side Alajuelense next week in a three-way tie at the top of the group.
Not that Donovan is worried.
“We’re fine, actually,” he said. “We executed our game plan exactly how we wanted. If a couple of calls go our way it’s a completely different game and we’re really happy walking out of here. Overall the effort was great and we can’t be too disappointed.”