Tuesday, Feb 18, Los Angeles Football Club lost in its first-ever CONCACAF Champions League game. Club Leon took Leg 1 2-0 at Leon Stadium in the Mexican state of Guanajuato and now, it’s all to play for back in Los Angeles.
Let’s take a look at three takeaways from game one that are likely to appear in Leg 2.
The Inevitable Rust
There was an elephant in the room last week in Leon Stadium — while the hosts played six official matches in 2020, LAFC was featuring in its first. It showed. A Tristan Blackmon slip in the 21st minute — which led to winger Jean Meneses’s opener — reeked of rust. All the way up to Leon’s final attack of the night when a series of slips in the 88th minute led to winger Angel Mena’s goal.
Manager Bob Bradley was also forced to substitute his highest functioning midfielder Mark Anthony Kaye after just 60 minutes to avoid overload early in the season. Fifteen minutes later, winger Diego Rossi would also be removed. Despite LAFC’s lion’s share of possession, it was the team in green that dictated the pace of the game and looked more lethal going forward.
Thursday, LAFC are back at home and a lot of that rust can be energized by a home crowd and a more familiar setting. The occasion seemed to get the best of both teams from the start of the whistle as each side had chances to open the scoring inside 10 minutes so, with some composure, The Black and Gold can surprise early.
Defense Needs to Click
In Leon, LAFC’s backline consisted of left-back Diego Palacios (20-years-old), center defenders Dejan Jakovic (34) and Eddie Segura (23) and right-back Tristan Blackmon (23). Together, Palacios and Jakovic had three starts for the team last season while goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer played his first official match for the Black and Gold. Tuesday was also the first game this backline was selected by manager Bob Bradley.
The failure to resign Steven Beitashour was the first domino to fall with the inability to sign his replacement followed by the unusual trade of last year’s linchpin Walker Zimmerman. It’s left Bradley having to sew up a defense that consists of a mixture of raw youth and a past-his-prime veteran.
Against Leon’s well structured, compact set of lines, it was no surprise the hosts were more dangerous going forward in Leg 1 than the visitors. While Blackmon’s 15 starts last season were a great sign from a young, MLS SuperDraft player, his pairing with Jakovic on the right side Tuesday wasn’t convincing. The 23-year-old would get caught pressing too high, leaving open space behind and a passive Jakovic with too much ground to cover. Leon wingers Jean Meneses and Angel Mena were left with acres of space throughout the match.
Palacios and Segura had more success absorbing pressure on the left side. Except the left-back’s inability to see passing alleys and play effectively going forward made it straightforward for Leon’s center midfielders to intercept. Pedro Aquino did well to snuff out attacks and anytime Jaine Barreiro and Ramiro Gonzalez were in trouble, wise fouls were committed to avoid breakaways.
The possible return of veteran left-back Jordan Harvey Thursday can prove as a boost. The make-shift center back missed the first leg due to the birth of his second child last week.
In The Attack
Going forward, LAFC wasn’t left entirely without chances. But the defining moments in front of the net and on the goal lines when crossing felt impotent. Leon goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota was comfortable — forced into one save in 90 minutes as 11 of LAFC’s 12 shots were off target.
The other starting debutante, midfielder Francisco Ginella, looked adequate next to Kaye but mistook his opportunity to equalize early in the second half. The three-man prong of Brian Rodriguez, Carlos Vela, and Diego Rossi showed signs of menace going forward but in front of goal, it wasn’t clinical enough. Each time one of them would get past a man on the wings, the cross would be received by guys in green with no attackers in the box.
The good thing now is that Bradley and his staff have the formula in the 90 minutes of tape in the first match. The only thing left is to execute and raise it up a level from Tuesday’s sluggish away display. Whether one official game is enough to create the cohesion necessary in Leg 2 we’ll find out.
Thursday night at Banc of California Stadium, LAFC will host Club Leon at 7 p.m. on FS1. Down 2-0, an early goal would do Los Angelinos well. Conceding at any time would make Leon the favorite as a Leon away goal would force LAFC to win the match by three goals. A 2-0 win for LAFC would mean 30 minutes of extra time with penalty kicks the next tiebreaker.
Top Photo: Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images