It’s a hard pill to swallow when you come so close to a final that you can taste it but this season’s CONCACAF Champions League final will not feature an MLS team after its last participant, Los Angeles Galaxy were knocked out over two legs by Mexican side, Monterrey. Having narrowly lost the first leg 2-1 at home, LA travelled to Mexico with optimism in the hope that reaching the final was still in their hands. With a solid backline and a formidable strike force of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, LA knew they had the team capable of winning the game and progressing. But instead it will be an all Mexican final as Monterrey progressed to face Santos Laguna later this month after they beat Los Angeles again, this time by a solitary goal, which meant a 3-1 aggregate score and elimination for Galaxy.
In a hostile environment, LA performed admirably but their efforts were in vain as they could find the finishing touch that has been with them this season in the league. At the back, the duo of former Monterrey player Omar Gonzalez and his defensive partner Leonardo held together a somewhat nervous back four but managed to shut down every opportunity that Monterrey had. The Mexican side, who have won this tournament for the past two years, looked dangerous in the first half, creating a series of good chances but Gonzalez was up to the challenge and shut them out. Galaxy too had chances in the first half, the best of which fell to Gonzalez, who was supported at the game by his family, found himself in space in the box but was unable to poke the ball past a confident Juan De Dios Ibarra in the Monterrey goal.
The second half started much as the first half had finished with a frantic pace to it and several chances falling to either side. Carlos Cudicini looked solid in-goal for Los Angeles, which historically has always been a weak area of their team. The Italian used all of his experience to get down well early in the second half to block a de Nigris effort, keeping the game tied. With the minutes ticking away, Galaxy pushed forward and created two goal scoring opportunities with efforts by Juninho and Donovan were stopped well by Juan De Dios Ibarra. With nine minutes left the deadlock was broke but unfortunately for Galaxy, it was Cudicini that was picking the ball out of his net after a De Nigris strike crept past him to put Monterrey ahead by 3-1 on aggregate. LA heads didn’t drop, much to the delight of coach Bruce Arena but were unable to find a way back into the game before the final whistle blew.
Galaxy started the match with optimism, with the return of captain Landon Donovan, making his first appearance this season. He did manage to play the entire game but whilst Donovan is a tireless worker and runner, he is highly predictable and was easily stifled by the Monterrey players. Keane, so often the focal point for LA, couldn’t find the space he needed to perform some of his special brand of magic and left the field frustrated and annoyed by his own performance. Arena took a bold move at the start of the match by leaving Mike Magee on the bench, which was somewhat of a surprise to many, most notably Magee himself. Whether the midfielder would have been able to give the team anything more than they had on the pitch from the start will be for the analysts to decide but realistically, the tie was lost at home some weeks ago at home in Los Angeles. Monterrey will go on from here in hope of a hat trick of Champions League trophies whilst Galaxy head back to the drawing board. They will get another crack at the tournament this summer when it kicks off again in earnest but before that they must now travel to Texas to face an inform Dallas side looking for blood. Bruce Arena will be delighted with that prospect after his team gave it all under tricky conditions in Mexico.