Los Angeles Soccer: Federico Villar
MORELIA, Mexico -- As one press-box wit noted following L.A.'s loss to Morelia in a CONCACAF Champions League clash, there is a substantial crime rate in Michoacan.
The Galaxy learned this the hard way Tuesday night, when it was robbed of one goal -- and Morelia was possibly given another -- in a 2-1 decision that raised some extraordinary questions about CONCACAF's policy for assigning officials for its most important matches.
Robbie Keane's would-be winner in the 90th minute was waved off by a phantom offside call, flagged by Honduran linesman Oscar Velasquez, as a flurry of late decisions went against L.A.
It was, frankly, criminal.
“I really don't know what to say,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said to begin the postgame news conference. “I thought some difficult decisions went against us to decide the game. ... I thought we were on the end of some bad decisions at the end of the game.”
It snowballed over the final 10 minutes, when the Galaxy -- holding onto an edge supplied through Robbie Keane in the 52nd minute -- conceded an 83rd-minute equalizer to Adrian Aldrete, saw Keane's second goal wiped away, then absorbed another phantom call, a foul against Frankie Hejduk, that started the sequence leading to Miguel Sabah's stoppage-time winner.
The offside call on Keane was the most egregious of several questionable decisions, all favoring Morelia.
Omar Gonzalez, about 8 yards out, sharply headed Landon Donovan's corner kick. Monarcas goalkeeper Federico Villar made the save, and Keane deposited the rebound. Who knows what Velasquez saw -- or thought he saw.
When Gonzalez made contact with the ball, the critical moment in the offside ruling, Keane was at the top of the 6-yard box and was stepping toward the net. Gerardo Lugo was in the 6, about 3 yards off the goal line -- meaning Keane was about 3 yards onside.
“It didn’t look offside,” Keane said. “I didn’t think I was offside, but I have to look back [at the tape] to see that.”
That left space to exploit, and when the Galaxy finally took advantage, early in the second half, Robbie Keane demonstrated why he could be so valuable an addition.
Instead, Morelia rallied for a 2-1 Group A victory, pulling out three points on Miguel Sabah's header two minutes into stoppage. Saunders had the shot covered, but it ricocheted off him and rolled into the net.
The Monarcas tied the score nine minutes earlier when Saunders fumbled Adrian Aldrete's 83rd-minute blast across the goal line.
It was a tough ending for Saunders, who was certainly L.A.'s -- and perhaps the game's -- man of the match, making seven superb saves, including at least three of real brilliance in the second half -- two on Rafael Marquez Lugo and another, even better, on Jorge Gastelum.
He had Aldrete's sharp shot covered, too, but it slipped through his legs, and although he leapt on the ball while it was still on the goal line, he pushed it into the goal while wrapping his body around it.
“I don't really know what to say,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “I thought some difficult decisions went against us to decide the game. ... I thought Josh played well. We don't even know if the first [Morelia] goal was a goal.”
Arena also was troubled by linesman Oscar Velasquez's decision to flag Keane offside in the 90th, after he knocked in a rebound -- for a would-be 2-1 lead -- after Morelia goalkeeper Federico Villar made a diving save on Omar Gonzalez.
The result dropped L.A. to 2-1-0 in the regional club championship and vaulted Morelia (2-1-0) atop the group. The teams meet again Sept. 28 at Home Depot Center.