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LAFC navigates through “emotion” as Club America uses dark arts in fiery CCL fixture

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Almost anyone who has watched a U.S. Men’s National Team-Mexico match or even a Concacaf Champions League game involving one side from MLS and another from Liga MX had probably seen this movie before.

A Mexican outfit was using the dark arts to try and take advantage of the opposition’s naivety. It looked like it might work, too. Until it didn’t.

LAFC rallied to eliminate Club America in the Concacaf Champions League semifinals on Saturday night, overcoming a first-half red card and deficit to win by a 3-1 mark. Yet while the impressive comeback was a major talking point, so too was the gamesmanship, craft, and cunning efforts employed by the Mexican club to get under the skin and into the heads of the Black and Gold.

“The attempt to just use that as a way of trying to get the edge and the win, you have got to be smart enough,” said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley after the match at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida. “We were saying from the beginning from our side, ‘Play the game, be smart. do not be naive, and do not get caught up with all the other stuff going on.’

“I cannot speak to the refs, but I think our guys handled things well.”

LAFC may have kept it together for most of the match, but the team was not flawless in that regard. Left back Diego Palacios was issued a yellow card in the eighth minute for retaliating to an off-the-ball provocation, and midfielder Eduard Atuesta was sent off with a straight red in first-half stoppage time for what officials determined was an intentional headbutt on Club America goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.

The latter incident began as a result of a no-call from head referee Juan Calderon, who waved off LAFC appeals for a penalty on Atuesta following a high boot from Club America midfielder Richard Sanchez at the top of the 18-yard box. Atuesta remained on the ground as play continued further up the field, and Ochoa raced over to the fallen Colombian and got in his face to berate him.

Ochoa remained reproaching Atuesta from that position for several seconds, and proceeded to go down in a heap to sell contact when Atuesta appeared to make contact with netminder as he tried to get up.

A slow motion replay showing a different angle appeared to show Ochoa put his hand on the back of Atuesta’s head as Atuesta attempted to stand, flicking Atuesta’s head at the same time he collapsed in a heap, doing his best to give the impression that Atuesta headbutted him.

“I have gotten a lot of text messages from people who have seen replays, from people who saw exactly who initiated the problem between Ochoa and Eduard,” said Bradley. “I was told by many people that Eduard did not do anything. I have not seen it yet, but I got so many messages.”

Tensions were high and tempers were flaring shortly after the controversial incident that left the MLS side with 10 men, and that led to another coming together between LAFC assistant coach Ante Razov and Club America head coach Miguel Herrera. The two argued intensely shortly after the halftime whistle, and Herrera at one point grabbed Razov’s hair before the American delivered a blow to the Mexican manager’s face that appeared to leave Herrera with a bloodshot eye that was noticeable in the second half.

“These are things that happen in a game, and I imagine even more so in a semifinal like the one we played today,” said LAFC midfielder Jose Cifuentes in Spanish. “…It is part of the game. It is part of the adrenaline when all the players are heated, when the coaching staffs on the outside are heated. It happens in soccer and today was no exception.”

Ultimately, Bradley’s side overcame all of Club America’s gamesmanship, including the ejected Herrera’s forbidden efforts to communicate to his bench in the second half from the stands via the use of a walkie talkie. Carlos Vela bagged a brace immediately after halftime, and that helped LAFC punch its ticket to the title game vs. Tigres UANL on Tuesday.

Still, this semifinal will likely be remembered as much for the chaotic events that happened at the end of the first half as anything else.

“That type of emotion, that type of passion, it comes out in big rivalries,” said Bradley. “You could feel that tonight.”

Comments

  1. To call what Club America did “practicing the Dark Arts” is much too charitable. They are dirty players and drama queens. The Mexican side’s play was an admission that they couldn’t beat LAFC straight up. Until the red card the ball was in Club America’s half the vast majority of the time.

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    • What a good result for Bradley and Vela and LAFC. I’m glad they still have a shot at getting something out of their season, as crazy a year as this has been.
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      I only saw the very end of the game, but I was glad that Club América got their comeuppance precisely on Univisión, whose sports coverage has declined in quality ever since they entered into some kind of embarrassing contractual agreement with the oligarchic Mexican media monolith Televisa and formed the joint operation TUDN. It makes me sick that they now allow sports journalists to appear in TV commercials broadcast during sports programs, so that viewers may be misled into thinking the TV network is endorsing the product. (I used to actually like Ramses Sandoval. No more. What a sellout.)
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      Still worse, they shamelessly show commercial advertisements for — who else — Club América every night now during the sports highlights hour. Using insidious language like ‘we,’ as if all their viewers were fans of the same team! Most of the Mexican-Americans I know are fans either of US teams or of other teams in Mexico, like Monterrey. Maybe they’re already used to the dark arts of Televisa.
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      Fortunately the Univisión sports commentators are not all Mexican or Mexican-American, and even those who are are usually honest enough to call out unsportsmanlike behavior when they see it. I didn’t listen to much of the broadcast, but at the end they had a few choice words to say about Miguel Herrera in particular. As far as I can tell, he deserves every bit of it. Maybe he needs to go sit in the corner until he can, as they say, put on his big-boy pants.
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      At least I don’t think Tata Martino will encourage behavior like that on the Mexican national team, but when emotions are high, who knows.
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