CARSON, Calif. — One question was on everyone’s mind after the LA Galaxy conceded twice in the final 10 minutes of play in their 2-1 loss to Monterrey on Wednesday night: Was Juninho’s injury in the 61st minute the turning point?
It’s an understandable question. Up until then, Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas had largely controlled the middle of the field, outshining Monterrey’s Mexican international midfield duo of Jesús Zavala and Severo Meza and hounding Chilean mastermind Humberto Suazo when he dropped back to collect the ball.
“I think everything kind of went out of control when Juninho came out of the game,” LA center back Omar Gonzalez said after the match. “They started pushing a lot of guys forward and we didn’t deal with the situation. We were sitting back a little too much and not putting pressure on them like we were in the first 75 minutes.”
For those first 75 minutes, the Galaxy were in great shape. They held a 1-0 lead, thanks to A.J. DeLaGarza’s goal in the 28th minute, and they were creating scoring opportunities such as Sean Franklin’s scuffed redirection in the 42nd minute and Robbie Keane’s point-blank shot that was saved by Monterrey goalkeeper Juan de Díos Ibarra in the 67th.
Juninho was a major part of all of that. His distribution was spot on in most cases, and it was his long ball that unlocked the Monterrey defense and set in motion the play that led to DeLaGarza’s goal. Once Juninho limped off and was replaced by Michael Stephens, the Galaxy seemed less balanced in the midfield. Spaces opened up that Monterrey took advantage of.
Still, not everyone believes his injury was the key moment.
“Everybody knows that Juninho is important and especially when we play together we understand each other,” Sarvas told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “But I don’t think that was the point that changed the game.
“I think that the whole team backed up too much. We gave them too much space and that’s not the best way to play against a Mexican team. If you give them space, they keep the ball and make you run, and in the last 10 minutes everyone was tired. They pressed us and that’s what happened.”
Monterrey manager Víctor Manuel Vucetich agrees. For him, the visitors were already in the ascendancy and pressing for the equalizer when Juninho came off.
“He’s a good player, but in this moment, his participation was diminished already,” he said. “I believe that Monterrey were a little better and creating more chances at this time.”
And Galaxy manager Bruce Arena, clearly frustrated with how the match finished, refused to say whether Juninho’s exit was critical or not.
“Who ever knows in that stuff,” he said in his postmatch press conference. “You can write all your stories [saying] that because he went out it hurt our team. Who knows what it really meant.”
There was no word on the extent of the injury immediately following the match.