“Am I allowed to shoot this? Is this really real?” Dave Romney was talking about his goal, but it was also an apt way to describe the night of soccer at StubHub Center that ensued between LA Galaxy and La Maquina FC in the 4th round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, highlighted by an ejection early in the first half and a back-and-forth series of on-the-pitch jousts, a draw in regulation time and a chaotic goal-fest in extra time, that sprung forth after a debatable go-ahead goal by LA’s Romney in the 96th minute and a brace from Sebastien Lletget. It was the goal that both boosted the home team’s confidence and shattered a hopeful yet tiring Santa Ana amatuer side, directly leading up to their breakdown, and two more goals by LA. And, though the scoreline was 4-1 by the end of the 115 minutes, it was far from an easy win for LA. And, now it is a reason La Maquina is contesting the game. Do gentlemen’s rules apply in soccer?
“We certainly didn’t make things easy for ourselves. We played, in regulation, 73 minutes with 10 players and then add another 30 onto it. That’s not a smart way to play any game,” Bruce Arena reflected. “We certainly had our chances to score more than one goal in 90 minutes, and you know, we sent it into extra-time. Clearly we were going to get a goal at some point to win this game, but we sure took our time.”
The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is the oldest soccer cup tournament in the Unites States (96 years). It’s a single-elimination tournament with both professional and amateur club teams. Since LA started competing in it in 1999, they’ve hoisted 2 trophies and reached the final four times.
La Maquina had beat out L.A. Wolves on June 1st 2-0 with two goals from tournament goal-scoring leader Edwin Boboa to reach the fourth round play. LA Galaxy put the pressure on from the early minutes with Emmanuel Boateng serving up crosses to teammates Alan Gordon and Jose Villareal. Villareal finally found the back of the net in the 15th minute off a cross from Raul Mendiola in the middle of the box, chesting it down and past La Maquina’s Luis Sosa. Minutes later, the tables turned when Rafael Garcia placed a studs up slide on Rosendo Castro receiving a red card for the blatantly reckless challenge.
As La Maquina’s attack became more effective against a 10-man LA Galaxy, the 29th minute error by A.J. DeLaGarza as he attempted to head a long ball to Clement Diop, led to Borboa capitalizing on the mistake getting his first and only goal of the match. Right before the half ended, Boateng almost got the game winner as he beat Sosa and chipped the ball towards the back of the net, however Victor Vazquez was there to rescue his team and cleared it off the line in time.
The second half brought more dramatics and close-calls, namely one in the 53rd minute from Alan Gordon who had Sosa and La Maquina’s net in clear sight but was unable to beat the confident goalkeeper who was able to grab the ball at Gordon’s feet before he could shoot. The rest of the half played out similarly with La Maquina’s defense putting numbers in the box to thwart LA Galaxy’s chances in regulation time.
The consequences played out amidst confusion and exhaustion in extra time within minutes. In the wake of the controversial Baggio Husidic and Dave Romney shot in the 96th minute, La Maquina challenged its legitimacy and after the match even LA admitted they did not know what had happened. Was the referee even paying attention? Most La Maquina players had not been paying attention, instead attending to an injured Jose Villareal. Until then, La Maquina had put up a good fight and it felt fair. But, from the rising voices of disatisfaction on the pitch and in the Maquina-dominated stands after that go-ahead goal, things felt far from straightforward. The play cast a shadow on the remainder of the match for La Maquina whose composure was all but lost as their challenges became more and more careless. When Lletget was dragged down inside the area and he easily netted LA’s third goal with the resulting PK. For his second and final goal, Lletget didn’t face much resistance from La Maquina’s tired defense, easily outrunning them in a breakaway and outmanuevering a helpless Sosa for the last goal of the night right before the final whisle blew. A clean finish had been made, but the issue of how LA’s second goal was scored created an environment that seemed to bring down the match. No doubt LA would have likely won the match fairly throughout the course of extra time regardless of the Romney goal, but when the winning team questions the play itself, there are reasons for both fans and tournament participants to worry.
Even as Husidic delivered the cross to a wide-open Romney, he wasn’t sure what was happening. “I asked a referee for a whistle and he didn’t respond so I just passed it,” Husidic admits afterwards. As for Romney’s part, “Am I allowed to shoot this? Is this really real?” he reflected through the play. “I just got it on my right foot and tucked it away.” As he took the opportunity to keep the play alive and score, the reality is there’s nothing inherently wrong with his action yet LA could have and should have won without resorting to a controversial goal. It was legal even if most La Maquina players were paying attention to Villareal’s injury.
It’s the referees’ call and responsibility to maintain order on the pitch during a game. The undeniable sense of confusion on the pitch they allowed for, however, is a problem that ought to be addressed. For La Maquina players who have joined the elite group of amateur teams to reach the coveted 4th round of play, this wasn’t just another game. It was possibly their only chance. While LA Galaxy players could go home, reflect on what happened and move on to the next, players from the small ragtag team from Santa Ana, go back to their non-soccer jobs and keep dreaming of whether they’ll have another chance on the pitch.
In spite of the result, LA’s Arena concludes that La Maquina played the role of the courageous underdog throughout. “They worked hard, give them credit. They were opportunistic.” And, in a match where just one team has the benefit of having soccer be their profession and full-time job, it’s all you can ask for. For a single night, the composure on the pitch and in the stands we are used to seeing in LA was on hold, and a piece of the entertaining mayhem much of the rest of the world sees on a regular basis, came out for a while. As jarring as it was, it was a memorable night for all. Fans of the game will always remember La Maquina just as they remember Cal FC’s run for the Cup in 2012. Everyone loves an underdog story.
*Photo: Dave Romney gives LAGalaxy the lead 2-1 in extra time. Photo credit: Stephanie Romero and Jon Lorentz