ALAJUELA, Costa Rica – The LA Galaxy had nearly everything thrown at them at Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto on Wednesday.
The crowd pierced the night with their venomous whistling, shouted obscenities at Galaxy players while the unyielding artificial surface was an ever-present obstacle as well. And, oh by the way, the hosts were not bad at all either.
The Galaxy dropped their second consecutive CONCACAF Champions League match, falling 1-0 to Liga Deportiva Alajuelense.
“Their goal was a great goal,” Galaxy midfielder David Beckham told reporters after the defeat. “Sometimes you have to hold your hands up and say you were beaten by a team that performed better on the night and scored a great goal.”
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Pablo Gabas buried a free kick midway through the first half to give the hosts the only goal they would need. The goal was the perfect topper for Alajuelense as it sent the sold-out crowd into a furious and frenzied euphoric celebration. Fans climbed atop the fence separating the stands from the field as Gabas and the rest of his teammates walked over towards the crowd to soak in the noise.
For as hostile as the crowd was and for as much as the conditions were a severe detriment to the Galaxy, the visitors’ play did not help matters much.
“That atmosphere was insane,” Galaxy midfielder Mike Magee said. “The field was bumpy and not ideal, but we didn’t create any chances. You can’t win games if you don’t create chances.”
From the time Magee took the field for a brief warm-up – he was the first LA player to take the field Wednesday evening – the crowd was all over the Galaxy. In fact, the hostilities began as the team bus pulled into the stadium, after an adventurous bus trip took the team through the narrow streets in the Alajuela neighborhood where the venerable stadium lies.
Streets were blocked off to traffic as red-and-black-clad fans packed the street immediately outside the stadium. Fans directed obscene gestures towards the team bus and whistled and shouted as players stepped off the bus and into the stadium.
The noise levels only grew.
“It was a good crowd, probably the loudest crowd I’ve ever played in front of,” Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza said.
The crowd may have seemed to rattle some of the Galaxy players and stunted their play on the field, but the team should have responded differently.
“It’s something that we kind of thrive on as a pro,” DeLaGarza said. “We like to play in front of venues like this. The crowd was loud. You could barely hear the person next to you. It was a great atmosphere. This is where we should shine.”
Once the hosts got their goal, they resorted to trying to hold onto their lead by whatever means necessary. Alajuelense players were slow to get to balls for throw-ins and set pieces, slow to leave the field after substitutions and were falling down onto the field seemingly without much contact. Also, Galaxy players said the referee may have started to feel the pressure raining down from the stands.
“The crowd was amazing,” Magee said. “They were loud, they were cheering. They definitely helped them out by getting on the refs. A couple of times I don’t think the ref knew anything of the calls.”
Perhaps the biggest advantage for the hosts, though, was the field. The artificial surface made the ball take strange bounces as Galaxy players seemed untidy on the ball.
“This field is tough,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. “You’ve got to give them credit because they know how to play on this field and we were a little naïve in the way we played.”
The Galaxy now face a critical match against Morelia on Sept 28. A win and LA climb back to nine points which, depending on Morelia’s result against Motagua on Thursday, could mean the Galaxy would climb back into a draw with Morelia or could jump ahead of the Mexican club.
Regardless of Wednesday’s loss, though, Galaxy players said advancing in the tournament depends on them.
“It looks like almost all the home teams have won,” DeLaGarza said. “We have to do that again with Morelia and get a result in Motagua. We control our own destiny.”
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and be reached at email at email@example.com.