SoCal Soccer Spotlight: Messi dominates at BMO Stadium

‘God’ comes to town, while ACFC and the Galaxy rack up points.

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Messi descends on Los Angeles

Lionel Messi and the Inter Miami traveling circus arrived in Los Angeles this past weekend to much fanfare and anticipation. Suddenly, a ticket to BMO Stadium for Sunday’s match became the hottest commodity in town as the average ticket went for $695 on the secondary market.

The event attracted a truly absurd list of celebrities. Everyone from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to Leonardo DiCaprio (in his classic hat-plus-sunglasses look) to USC’s very own Caleb Williams graced LAFC’s VIP list.

Those who wouldn’t grace the luxury suites gathered outside the stadium, where the crowd bubbled with anticipation for Messi’s first MLS match in LA.

LAFC fans Ramon Tarango, 39, and Victor Monroy, 28, both from Inglewood, California, have followed the team for far longer than Messi has played in the U.S. However, even Tarango had to admit that Messi’s visit was a special night.

“I like the atmosphere,” Tarango said. “The bottom line is that the 3252 (LAFC’s supporter section) are going to sing their hearts out… it’s going to be a better atmosphere than when we play against the Galaxy, because you’re playing against the GOAT.”

They both consider Messi one of their favorites, but their club loyalties came first that night.

“When I heard about him coming to MLS,” Monroy said, “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I hope it’s LAFC!’”

Even though Messi joined Miami, Monroy at least appreciated that he had the opportunity to see Messi play in his home city.

“Now I get to actually see him for once, I don’t have to go all the way to Europe and see my favorite player,” he said.

They both wanted to see an LAFC victory and a Messi goal.

Carlos Matamoros, 31, from Valencia, California, only really started following soccer closely during the 2022 FIFA World Cup, but Messi’s performances during that tournament made him a die-hard fan.

“I’d known about him,” Matamoros said. “But seeing him perform that way with what he had, GOAT-ed him in my eyes… I was a soccer fan [before], but that’s my favorite sport now.”

His newfound loyalty to the Argentinian wizard convinced him to bite the bullet on tickets.

“I was part of that movement,” he said. “I bought this ticket two months ago for $670 bucks.”

But Matamoros’s Messi fandom pales in comparison to Maximilian Benites, 52.

Benites, originally from Peru, tracked Messi’s career since he was a teenager at Barcelona and remained more loyal to the player than any club team.

“When he was 14, playing in Spain, I knew right there that he was going to become a god,” Benites said.

But even Benites didn’t know much about the MLS before Messi’s arrival.

“Inter Miami, two months ago, was nothing and now everybody’s talking about it.”

Benitez had his family of four all decked out in Messi jerseys, of which he owns about 15. The quartet did not yet have tickets to the match, but Benitez was willing to pay up to $1500 to see the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner in person. He was already planning to fly to Miami to see Messi again, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try and see him in Los Angeles.

“God is in town.”

Inter Miami stomp on LAFC

Unfortunately for Tarango and Monroy, LAFC did not achieve their dream result.

If it wasn’t already, it would be foolish to keep doubting Messi and co. after this match. Their great escape from the bottom of the Eastern Conference continued this weekend with a 3-1 victory over the reigning MLS Cup champions.

LAFC suffered from the same affliction in this match that we’ve identified in previous columns: they create enough chances, but their rapid pace of play leaves them too vulnerable at the back.

The black-and-gold’s inability to control the game’s pace looked even more glaring against Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, for whom dictating the pace is in their Barcelona DNA. All of Miami’s play flowed through Busquets, who completed more passes (50) than almost any other player on the pitch attempted during the match. Then once the ball entered the final third, it was Messi time. According to FotMob’s match stats, the Argentinian forward created three chances for his teammates, tallied 0.65 expected goals himself and finished with two assists.

LAFC took 22 shots of generally decent quality and on another night could have easily won or drawn this match. Denis Bouanga regularly takes five or six shots in a match and usually scores when he reaches that volume, but had an unfortunate night in front of goal. The winger’s failed dink over Miami keeper Drake Callender in the first half stands out as probably his most egregious miss. And until Inter Miami’s Facundo Farías scored their opening goal, LAFC had dominated the opening exchanges.

Carlos Vela finished the match with an assist for Ryan Hollingshead on a corner kick, but couldn’t match Messi in this game. Despite this, fans still referred to Vela as the ‘GOAT of MLS,’ outside of BMO Stadium.

LAFC have lost consecutive matches a few times previously this season, but their dropped games against Charlotte and Miami have arrived at an unfortunate time. The team travels to Portland for their next match, before playing the Galaxy, St. Louis City and Philadelphia in consecutive matches. The Galaxy are resurgent and will be revved up for El Tráfico, while St. Louis City still sit atop the Western Conference and the Union will want revenge for the MLS Cup final.

This next series will test LAFC’s mettle and provide the truest window yet into their playoff readiness.

Angel City and the Galaxy keep chugging along

Angel City might just make my playoff prediction look good. At the very least, this team refuses to lose, securing a second consecutive win, this time a 1-0 result against the Kansas City Current.

Jasmyne Spencer, who started this match at right back, scored the first goal of her Angel City career to lift her club into eighth place in the NWSL table, just two points out of the final playoff place, currently occupied by the Washington Spirit. With that jump in the standings, three of Angel City’s next four opponents sit below them in the table (Chicago, Orlando and Houston).

Most importantly, Angel City just does not give up. They didn’t have the upper hand in possession or shots (47% and 15 shots to KC’s 18), but Spencer’s bursts forward in the second half provided her team a boost when they needed it. The forwards have developed better chemistry recently and head coach Becki Tweed’s squad plays a brand of soccer that’s postseason-ready. They look ready to surprise any team.

Down in Carson, the Galaxy drew 0-0 with a fifth-placed Houston Dynamo team, a perfectly respectable result, having beaten the San Jose Earthquakes 3-2 in the Bay in midweek.

Riqui Puig continues to be appointment television and the Galaxy’s playoff challenge remains alive for now. Only time will tell.

Next games:

LAFC: Saturday, September 9 vs. Portland Timbers (away)

Angel City: Sunday, September 17 vs. Chicago Red Stars (away)

LA Galaxy: Sunday, September 10 vs. St. Louis City (home)

“SoCal Soccer Spotlight” is a column by Jack Hallinan about the professional soccer landscape in Los Angeles.