School was in session tonight in León. For the sake of the second leg at Banc of California Stadium, you have to hope the LAFC squad was paying attention.
If you wrapped up all the lessons MLS teams learned over the course of international competitions into one 90-minute match, LAFC's 2-0 loss in León could be the blueprint.
The Black & Gold found out the hard way how errors get punished in the Concacaf Champions League. They got a lesson in tactics from a focused León side. And most importantly, LAFC got schooled in the finer points of game management in a two-legged tie.
Let me put it simply, sticking with the school analogy. By conceding a second goal with just minutes left to play, LAFC went from having the equivalent of a last-minute term paper due in the morning to realizing it had to be a minimum of 10 pages as the sun began to rise.
But having pulled off my fair share of all-nighters in my academic career, I have to believe LAFC has it in them. Will it be tough? Yup. Is it going to be pretty? Probably not. But at this point, it’s going to take the maximum effort to hit the minimum requirements for success… and that’s about all you can ask for.
Here are the takeaways from LAFC’s 2-0 loss to León in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16:
Sosa For Ramos
I was a bit surprised to see Nacho Ambriz start the match without what's come to be his preferred attacking quintet this season. The León head coach made changes in the Liga MX match prior to facing LAFC but that was more about saving his players' legs than anything tactical.
The change that had me thinking was using Ismael Sosa up top in place of Leonardo Ramos. Ramos has been the "tip of the spear" if you will this season for León and it's worked to the tune of the second-best goalscoring record in Liga MX's Clausura thus far. So why the change?
Well, for one, Sosa's pace. Ambriz was clearly set up to take advantage of LAFC's high line. Sosa looked to go beyond the LAFC backline every chance he got. And to go with it, Sosa can hurt teams off the dribble. Ramos is more of a target man that holds up play and gets his teammates involved. Ambriz clearly wanted a setup that could be dangerous without committing too many numbers forward.
With one personnel decision, the León head coach tried to exploit LAFC's style of play while also defending against the Black & Gold's ability to hurt teams in transition.
They Can Fly
León can really fly when they win the ball. And they can do it with just a few players.
There's no messing about. León gets the ball on the feet of the open man and they run. It was breathtaking, as in I felt out of breath, watching how quickly they were able to get the ball forward and into a dangerous position on the pitch with just one to two passes.
By doing all this with sometimes as few as 3 players, the home side also kept men behind the ball all night. León was missing left back Yairo Moreno, who likes to bomb forward, but they didn't need him because the backline had no need to get forward. In fact, it looked like they made a concerted effort of staying connected and even keeping their line dropped a few yards behind the LAFC front line.
But one caveat to all this. Despite the 2-0 scoreline, you have to commend LAFC for how it dealt with so many transition moments. A lot of it was self-inflicted by the way LAFC gave up possession but Dejan Jaković and Eddie Segura were excellent in cutting out plays at crucial moments.
There were questions about LAFC's center-back pairing heading into this match. You can cross that worry off the list.
Take A Load Off
I tried to keep track of the number of times LAFC picked the right pass but let itself down with the angle or poor weight of the ball. Of all the things that get attributed to preseason, this problem summed up the night the best.
Time after time, balls were hit too hard for the attacking player. That's the type of thing that keeps you in rhythm and LAFC thrive on that type of flow to their game. It simply wasn't there tonight and the result was the breakdown of nearly every promising attacking movement.
The final result of it all? One shot on goal from the Black & Gold on the night.
One of the night's best chances for LAFC came in the 54th minute. Francisco Ginella was played in on goal and his shot trickled just wide.
With León adamant about dropping their line and keeping LAFC's attackers in front, the best move of the night was the result of a runner from midfield ahead of the ball.
León allowed service into the feet of the likes of Carlos Vela, Brian Rodríguez, and Diego Rossi. But the LAFC trio came up against a set defense of four or more all too often. If LAFC could have just found a few more moments where the team was more compact going forward and its midfielders got close enough to the attackers to make runs ahead, maybe a few more chances could have been created.
The First Of Many
The result on the pitch aside, LAFC's trip to León was made historic by what happened off it.
The videos and photos of LAFC Supporters around León were incredible. Scenes like this are how the trip will be remembered:
This first international away day in LAFC history will be one of many to come. The culture and the way the 3252 showed up in León will be talked about for a while. It's not everyday home fans applaud the away supporters in the stadium. It's something to be truly proud of. It's built off the work of the 3252 over the last two seasons and a foundation for what is to come:
And you better believe the players noticed it, too. They'll need your support again in the return leg at Banc of California Stadium on Feb. 27: