St. Louis City SC star midfielder Eduard Lowen (left) was still a no-show on Wednesday night against LAFC. LA Striker Denis Bouanga (right) was a force to be reckoned with as his brace led LAFC to a 2-0 win over St. Louis. (Photo from last season's meeting between LAFC and St. Louis City by Brad Piros)

ST. LOUIS - St. Louis City SC hosted Western Conference opposition LAFC in a midweek MLS match on Wednesday night.

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City were the better team for the first half but failed to convert their chances. The second half did not go the way of the guys in City Red, and two Denis Bouanga goals gave LAFC a 2-0 victory.

The news when the team sheets came out: no Eduard Lowen, who City head coach Bradley Carnell said would be available “either Wednesday or Saturday.” Joakim Nilsson also made his way into the starting eleven for the first time after dealing with the effects of a broken rib suffered playing against physical striker Christian Benteke and DC United.

For LAFC, 38-year-old Kei Kamara started as a center forward. A legend of MLS, Kamara sits on 144 MLS regular season goals over his career, just one short of Landon Donovan’s 145 for second place on Major League Soccer’s all-time scoring charts.

City's big chance of the first half came by way of the Video Assistant Referee, or VAR, which called match official Joe Dickerson to the video screen by the side of the field, across from the team benches. LAFC’s Omar Campos inadvertently got a hand to an attempted Joao Klauss cross. With no Eduard Löwen in the team again, it was Klauss who stepped up to take the penalty for City.

Facing LAFC’s star goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who made a high-profile move to LA over the winter, Klauss took a hop and a skip in his penalty run-up, and couldn't get his shot far enough away from the right hand of the French World Cup winning keeper. Lloris would block a rebound from City left back Anthony Markanich from an acute angle as well.

Klauss was remorseful for his penalty miss following the game.

“I take responsibility in this game,” said Klauss. “It's not the first penalty kick that I have missed in my career, and it's not the last one. I really apologize to my teammates. Also, to our fans. I let the team down today.”

LAFC’s best shot at goal in the first half came in stoppage time, when Mateusz Bogusz curled a shot from the left side, just outside City’s 18-yard box, that forced Roman Burki into a leaping save that the City captain parried behind for a corner kick.

City thought they had scored the opener in the first half of stoppage time when Anthony Markanich poked home a loose ball after a corner kick. The supporters in the north end were jubilant, but once again VAR called referee Joe Dickerson to the video screen, and the goal was wiped off the board after it was judged that Markanich used his arm to stop the ball.

While ultimately the correct call, the goal coming off the board was tough to swallow for City after missing a golden chance to open the scoring through Klauss's penalty chance. Despite being in the ascendancy in the first half, City went into the locker room still looking for a goal to reward their hard work.

Like the game against Chicago on Saturday, a momentary defensive lapse left far too much space for LAFC’s Denis Bouanga, one of the best players in all of MLS, and when a player with that quality is given space to run, the results are usually calamitous for the defending team.

A ball over the top from Mateusz Bogusz deep in LAFC territory found Denis Bouanga running behind City left back Anthony Markanich. Bouanga was through on goal with only Roman Burki to beat.

Bouanga smashed a shot over Bürki’s left shoulder that the City captain and keeper had no chance of stopping. Despite leading in possession and creating some good scoring chances, City were in a hole at home thanks to a clinical finish from LAFC’s star man.

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City’s back line was caught in a momentary daze, and Roman Bürki was left stranded.

“We have these moments, I think the game in Kansas is also a good example,” explained City keeper Roman Bürki. “We leave (Sporting KC’s Erik) Thommy alone, long ball behind our defense and we're not ready. We think maybe it's offside. It's just not enough communication. It's just not good enough. How do we stand and leave their best player all alone two times in the same game, one-on-one against the goalkeeper. It’s not a good look for the defense.”

In the 75th minute the night would go from bad to worse for City, and more specifically Anthony Markanich. Markanich was sent off following his second yellow card on a call that drew ire from the 22,000-plus at CITY PARK and Bradley Carnell and the City bench as well.

“I felt there was a staggered rhythm in the game and a few things we can't control,” said Bradley Carnell, speaking to frustrations with some of the officiating in the game. “We try to control the things we can control and unfortunately the night gets away from us.”

With the ball at his feet, the City left back was shoved from behind by LAFC defender Sergi Palencia. While falling to the ground, Markanich’s right arm catches Palencia in the face, who dropped to the floor. Referee Joe Dickerson called a foul on Markanich, and reached into his pocket to pull out his yellow and red cards to reduce City to ten men.

“I thought Anthony gets a shot at the back, falls over and (the referee calls) it the other way,” said Carnell following the game. “I'm not sure what the yellow card came for, I'm not sure about that. But for us it was a clear foul the other way (on LAFC) in my opinion.”

Never lacking desire, City pressed for an equalizer even down a man, but could not breach the LAFC defense. Hugo Lloris had to be there in goal for LA, but his services ultimately weren’t required.

LAFC and Denis Bouanga found a 95th-minute dagger that sent most remaining fans to the exits. A turnover by Chris Durkin, playing as a center back, gifted Bouanga the freedom of CITY PARK to run at the City goal. Roman Bürki had to track back from an advanced position to try to make the save, but Bouanga hit a chip shot right over the Swiss keeper’s head.

2-0, a usually raucous crowd silenced, and the full-time whistle blown, it was a night to forget for St. Louis City and their fans. A disappointing night for the hosts, a night that went exactly to plan for the visitors.

“LAFC come here and get exactly what they want, and it's a transition moment and they score the goal,” said Bradley Carnell. “They get compact and we can't create any sort of actions that we've been so accustomed to lately. So credit to them. They came here with the smash-and-grab and off they go again.”

Referee decisions came into play on multiple occasions Wednesday night, with Bradley Carnell giving pointed responses regarding the team “only being able to control what they can control”. Joao Klauss spoke more sympathetically on the whole about the officiating.

“Look, I think they did a good job,” said City’s Brazilian striker. “On the PK (awarded to City), he made a good call and then if the ball hit (Markanich’s) hand, we have to accept that. I think we should not blame anyone or blame them or looking for something outside or something. We have to look at ourselves, look at what we can do better and then move on.”

Luckily a short memory benefits City, who have one of their toughest tests of the season coming up in less than 72 hours when they travel to Cincinnati to take on last year’s MLS Supporters Shield winners.

“We have Saturday to look forward to,” said City vice captain Tim Parker. “So hopefully we're able to go on the road and redeem ourselves.”

The short turnaround sees City back in action Saturday night when they take on FC Cincinnati, the second place team in the MLS Eastern Conference. Kickoff is set for just after 6:30 Central Time.

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