A 1-0 loss — even one punctuated by sloppy play through midfield, ragged play from the backline and dodgy moments from the 'keeper — would've been fine. It's not ideal, of course, but for the first game of 2020 after almost four months without soccer, there's supposed to be sloppiness and a bit of a raggedy back four. You can live with a one-goal loss.
A 2-0 loss looks twice as bad but feels much, much worse than that.
It's not the kiss of death, but it sure is the kiss of "very nearly dead," which is what LAFC must live with following their first leg in Mexico against Club Leon. The veteran Liga MX side, who spent most of the last Apertura and have spent most of this year's Clausura at or near the top of the table, simply waited the guests out. They happily conceded possession, toggled from the occasional press to the more typical low-ish block, and counted on their ability to capitalize on mistakes.
And that's what they did. In the first half it was a turnover from Mark-Anthony Kaye, a lack of subsequent midfield pressure, and then a slip from Tristan Blackmon...
¡Rugió la Fieraaaaa! ¡Gooooooooool!— TUDN USA (@TUDNUSA) February 19, 2020
Jean Meneses ya hizo explotar al Estadio León. 😍@clubleonfc 0-0 @LAFC#TheChampions | #LaFiera | #LEONvLAFC
🔴En Vivo: https://t.co/rAWohljMgR pic.twitter.com/6TMHzwkd08
In the second half it was just LAFC being a team out of gas and holding on for dear life until they couldn't. On Leon's second goal in the 88th minute: I'm still not sure why Carlos Vela decided to skip over multiple teammates in order to play square, right across the backline, to Mohamed El-Munir in that spot, and I'm definitely not sure what El-Munir was trying to do by dawdling on the ball like he did. It made no sense.
This early in the season, that's frequently the case. Decisions on the ball aren't made as quickly (or as well), and movement off the ball is usually too mechanical. You can't be slow or mechanical or sloppy or ragged or half-formed if you're going to win in Mexico, nor can you have your big-name attacking players put in displays that are mostly anonymous (Vela & Diego Rossi) or outright poor (Brian Rodriguez). If you check all of those boxes on the same night then you're lucky to walk away only with a 2-0 loss.
Context: As bad as that 2-0 loss feels, understand this is what Club Leon do. Prior this first leg match against LAFC, they'd played three home games in 2020: They won all three and scored three goals in each of them. So that second goal was always coming, especially with Luis Montes playing like a man with absolute clarity of purpose.
LAFC still have a chance to reverse this next week, of course – teams have come back from two goals down before. They have the firepower, and now they have 90 competitive minutes under their belts.
But yeah, it's a long shot. Their bed has been made, and when they go back to watch the tape of this one they'll know it wasn't Leon who made it.