Los Angeles Football Club took their maiden voyage in Concacaf Champions League with the first leg of their knockout series against Mexican side Club León on Tuesday, with León coming away 2-0 winners at their Nou Camp in León, Guanajuato.
With another leg in the series coming next week, LAFC were aiming for a positive result, and a two-goal deficit is not necessarily a worst-case scenario, but the task at hand is tough and conceding late really hurts their cause in the series.
LAFC started the game with most of what you would expect in a first-choice XI, with a few surprises. Newcomer Kenneth Vermeer started in goal, as expected, but the other two GKs on the roster were on the bench, due to short numbers. Dejan Jakovic got the call in defense, after Walker Zimmerman was traded away last week.
The big surprise was in midfield, as Francisco Ginella made his debut from the start and Eduard Atuesta was off the 18 altogether, the Colombian not listed on the club’s injury report Tuesday afternoon.
The opening 20 minutes was somewhat back and forth, neither team really getting off to a fantastic start, although LAFC looked much shakier on both ends. There were several moments in the opening minutes where LAFC needed to make a defensive stop and did, but there was a feeling the luck would run out at some point. In attack, Carlos Vela looked lively early, but LAFC did not have the team chemistry in the buildup to offer support for the Mexican.
The breakthrough came in the 21st minute, after León took the ball off an interception and came back on the counter. Jean Meneses found his spot just inside the box, fooling Tristan Blackmon, then shooting at the near post after Jakovic screened Vermeer momentarily. The goal looked deceptively easy for the hosts.
LAFC nearly tied it up a moment later, but the shot from Brian Rodriguez trickled just beyond the far post.
After a halftime break with León ahead 1-0, the home side nearly doubled their lead right out of the restart, after Vermeer punched his rebound on a save right into the path of Luis Montes, whose subsequent shot trickled just wide of the post, saving LAFC’s blushes.
Mark-Anthony Kaye was the first LAFC player to depart on the night, with rookie Bryce Duke making his pro debut in trying circumstances just after the hour mark. Mohamed El-Munir later subbed in for Diego Palacios, who was on a yellow card. Adrien Perez was the final sub, entering in the final 15 for Diego Rossi.
LAFC seemed to find a spot of possession in the first half of the second half, but León found their footing again and put LAFC under immense pressure to close the game. That paid off when Angel Mena scored an insurance tally, completely unmarked, at the top of the box in the 88th minute.
That last goal is a killer, as a one-goal deficit is a lot more manageable to overturn than being two goals down. LAFC certainly could be in worse shape, but they will need to step their game up, substantially, in order to hope to advance in their first CCL foray.
These teams will be back at it a week from Thursday, for the return leg at The Banc. Can LAFC regroup and overturn the result? Stay tuned!
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