LAFC 1-2 Tigres UANL
Concacaf Champions League - Final
Dec. 21, 2020
In the first final in Club history, LAFC came up heartbreakingly short on Tuesday night, giving up two goals in the final 20 minutes to fall 2-1 in the Concacaf Champions League Final to Mexico’s “Team of the Decade”, Tigres UANL.
Playing without 2019 Best XI midfielder Eduard Atuesta, who was forced to miss the final due to a controversial red card ejection against Club América in the semifinal, LAFC controlled the action for much of the first 70 minutes as they looked to take down the fourth Liga MX club in the competition.
In just their third season, the Black & Gold had already become the first MLS team to beat three Liga MX teams in a single tournament, and were just the third MLS team to qualify for a Concacaf final since 2000.
“Our team is growing,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said. “We played some really good football in some of these games. Our way of going after it was good.”
After a scoreless first half, Diego Rossi gave LAFC a 1-0 lead in the 61st minute flipping in a perfect cross field pass from Mark-Anthony Kaye after a beautiful build-up.
But the Black & Gold could not hang on – as Tigres evened the match in the 71st minute on a header by Hugo Ayala, and then took the lead with six minutes remaining on a André-Pierre Gignac goal.
“We’re disappointed,” Bradley said. “It was a choppy game. The football was not always perfect, but I thought our way of going after them and pushing the game for 70 minutes was quite good.”
And just like that, after a stirring performance that grabbed the world’s attention with some marquee victories over Mexican giants Club León, Cruz Azul and Club América, LAFC’s unbelievable 2020 season is finally concluded.
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE TOURNAMENT
While the rest of his teammates stared in disappointment across the field as Tigres celebrated their first Concacaf Championship, LAFC defender Diego ’Chiqui’ Palacios made his way to the awards podium.
The 21-year-old defender was recognized as the Best Young Player of the Tournament. The Ecuadorian National Team player was solid in all five matches in the tournament, and appeared in 16 regular season matches for LAFC in 2020, despite missing the Playoffs due to a Covid-19 infection.
“I think Chiqui really raised his level of intensity in these games,” Bradley said. “We believe in him.”
VELA THE MAN – AND A MARKED MAN
It doesn’t matter if it is an MLS match, U.S. Open Cup, or Concacaf Champions League – one thing that remains constant for LAFC is the dominance of Carlos Vela.
“Carlos is special,” Bradley said. “He is a great guy and an amazing player. He scores great goals and we are lucky to have him.”
The 2019 MLS MVP, Vela struggled through a difficult 2020. Forced to miss over 85% of the season due to a family situation and a knee injury, he rounded back into shape in perfect time to lead the Black & Gold in the Champions League.
In five games against teams from his home country, Vela scored five goals to finish second in the competition. He fired 25 shots on goal, including 11 on target and created 16+ chances. Vela was truly at another level vs León, Cruz Azul and Club America. In the final, Tigres made sure to do anything they could to limit LAFC’s focal point.
“Carlos took some pretty good fouls tonight,” Bradley said. “He took a lot of hard fouls tonight. I’m not sure why, at a certain point when you have a player like that, that is constantly getting fouled, it would seem that would lead to a yellow card.”
STEPPING IN FOR ATUESTA
LAFC went 1-4 this season in MLS play when forced to play without 2019 Best XI midfielder Eduard Atuesta due to a leg injury. The Colombian is a key component to LAFC’s dynamic attacking style, and not having him in the lineup in the final versus Tigres due to a dubious red card received in the semifinal was sure to be an issue for the Black & Gold.
Bradley opted to insert Latif Blessing in the midfield in place of Atuesta, and The Game Changer was his usual frenetic self, making plays all over the field. Pablo Ginella subbed on for José Cifuentes in the second half with hopes of elevating the midfield play late in the game like he did versus Club América in the semifinals.
Holding on to a 1-0 lead with approximately 20 minutes remaining in the Concacaf Champions League Final, it appeared that LAFC was ready to secure the win and qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup.
“We stepped up and we put pressure on them,” Bradley said. “We closed them down and put pressure on them and they had a difficult time getting forward. We felt we could push the game and try to step up and press and find moments of being able to control the game.”
All of that was going according to plan. And then – disaster struck.
“We had a chance to go to 2-0,” Bradley said referring to an open shot that Vela fired toward goal that was blocked en route by a Tigres defender. “And then a misunderstanding leads to the corner.”
Defending corner kicks has been a struggle for LAFC this season, and Tigres pounced on this one.
“We didn’t do well in the front zone,” Bradley said about the game-tying goal. “Mark [Anthony Kaye] has a chance to maybe clear it and doesn’t get to it.”
In the game’s final minutes, as both teams looked to be tiring, Tigres came through with the game-winner in the 81st minute.
“On the second goal, you could tell we got careless and were slower to close down,” Bradley said. “We didn’t do a good enough job and then Rodríguez gets through and Gignac is right there waiting for the moment, and he had an excellent finish. So, we end in a really disappointing way.”
Despite the loss, Bradley was pleased with the showing that his third-year club was able to make in the first international competition for the Black & Gold.
“The football that we play, we are proud of,” Bradley said. "We are not going to change anything. When you establish a team and a way to play and an identity, you don’t just say that we’re going try something different. We have real football ideas and everyone here is committed to the work and is going to continue to try and get better. I think that is happening for us. We feel very good about what we are doing and we are going to move forward with that.”