Galaxy begin inaugural Leagues Cup against León

Anne-Marie Sorvin | USA TODAY | 2023 Jul 15
The LA Galaxy are set to face the defending Concacaf Champions Club León, in the inaugural Leagues Cup Wednesday evening.

The Los Angeles Galaxy will kick off their inaugural Leagues Cup campaign against Liga MX’s Club León, the defending Concacaf Champions League Champion, at Dignity Health Sports Park on Wednesday.

The match was rescheduled a day later than planned after a “mechanical issue” interrupted León’s travel to LA, not giving the team ample time to train before the originally scheduled date. 

LA still enters as underdogs despite defeating both MLS Cup finalists before the break, the Galaxy were handed a humbling 4-2 defeat in their last MLS match against their other Leagues Cup rival, the Vancouver Whitecaps. 

Speaking of the Whitecaps, due to the match against León being rescheduled, the Galaxy’s match against Vancouver was subsequently pushed back a day, rescheduled for Sunday evening.

The forthcoming Leagues Cup tournament comes as a needed reset for the Galaxy, which allows the team to shift its focus away from their dwindling playoff hopes in MLS play.

Despite León’s rich history in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, the club has never faced the Galaxy before but, the two teams do share one Concacaf giant.

As highlighted by the Galaxy’s social media, Landon Donovan, the Galaxy and USMNT’s all-time leading scorer, spent a season in León in 2018.

León has a steep history in México. The club’s eight Liga MX titles are the fifth-most in league history, trailing only Club América, Guadalajara, Toluca and Cruz Azul.

Currently placed 11th on the Liga MX table with three points, Club León enters the tournament on the back of a 2-2 draw against Vancouver in regular time, securing a 16-15 victory in penalties. Before their Leagues Cup debut, León suffered a narrow 1-0 away defeat against Tigres.

Nevertheless, a commanding 4-0 win at home over Pachuca in their second Liga MX match of the season helped them recover from an initial 1-2 loss against Chivas on the opening day of the Apertura.

León’s strength is their defense, as the club finished this year’s Clausura campaign with just 13 goals conceded, holding the best defense in Liga MX.

The defensive system is expandable and the full backs tend to play wide, which leaves León in a position to defend duels all over the field. When León wins most of their duels, the team defends well. 

León, led by 38-year old manager Nicolás Ricardo Larcamón, continues its campaign to add another trophy to their collection before the end of the year, alongside the CONCACAF Champions League trophy the club hoisted in June.

Unfortunately, the Galaxy’s Impressive seven-game unbeaten run was undone after their most recent outing against Vancouver, where LA conceded three goals in the first-half.

Defender Chris Mavinga’s red card and penalty further compounded their woes, leaving the Galaxy in 13th place with a 5-7-10 record, accumulating 22 points in MLS play. 

Even though LA fought back valiantly with 10 players, they fell short, exposing once again their defensive vulnerabilities. 

Jalen Neal’s return from USMNT duties could not have come at a better time, as the Galaxy’s backline will need to be at full strength to counter Leon’s agile attacking style. 

On the attacking front, Riqui Puig’s All-Star form is expected to be on full display, but he will need to be complemented by Douglas Costa and Tyler Boyd. If this trio manages to play fluidly up top, it could spell trouble for León.

The Galaxy’s best odds for a victory may hinge on a strong start and an early goal to unsettle León, considering the latter’s potential struggles with fatigue after the delayed arrival to LA.

On paper, the Galaxy will have the advantage of a home game against their Liga MX rivals, but the crowd will likely tell a different tale Wednesday night. As is normally the case whenever any Liga MX team or the Mexican National Team plays in Los Angeles, they are expected to feel at home. 

Based on how the season has gone for the Galaxy, if León manages to score first, the Galaxy’s track record points toward a loss. 

Conquering both León and Vancouver would give the Galaxy the best chance to advance to the knockout round in this tournament, but LA likely needs to be the aggressor and strike first.