LAFC vs Tigres UANL
Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League (SCCL) Finals
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
7:00 p.m. PT
TV: FS2, TUDN
Radio: 980 La Mera Mera
From the first time LAFC took the pitch in 2018, the Club established lofty goals and standards for itself that to some seemed outrageous. Yet in only three seasons, the Black & Gold have already set all-time MLS records that include: most points in a season (2019, 72 pts), highest goal differential (+48), earliest team to clinch playoff spot (2019, 25 games), fastest MLS side to 100 points (2018-2019, 53 games), and more.
Despite those accolades, there was one thing missing – a trophy in a knockout tournament after winning the Supporters' Shield in 2019 but falling short three times in the MLS Cup Playoffs and the U.S. Open Cup.
LAFC is now in the very first final in Club history, with a prime opportunity in front of them to add another trophy. The Concacaf Champions League crown is within arm’s reach, but it was no easy road here. The Black & Gold had to come from behind in each round and became the first-ever MLS side to defeat three Liga MX teams in a single edition of the competition.
In the semifinal against Liga MX giant Club América, LAFC went down early in the first half against the run of play. Later in the half, Eduard Atuesta and América goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa found themselves in a scuffle that left Atuesta with a red card and LAFC a man down going into the half. It was looking dire until a scintillating Carlos Vela put on a show to open the second half, scoring two goals in the first two minutes and Latif Blessing fired in a stoppage time goal to put the game out of reach 3-1.
Now in the Final, the Black & Gold are facing another powerhouse Liga MX team in Tigres UANL, who shut out New York City FC 4-0 and Honduran club C.D. Olimpia 3-0 en route to the championship game. Tigres enjoyed success in Liga MX domestic play as well. They finished sixth in the league overall and advanced to the playoffs, but were ultimately edged out 3-2 on aggregate in the quarterfinals by Cruz Azul.
LAFC Head Coach, Bob Bradley, is adamant about what has helped his team reach this point.
“Our mentality,” Bradley said. “After halftime – that intensity in the second half was just awesome. We have been trying to develop that kind of mentality and win tough games and get to finals. I think we’ve learned from some of the moments that slipped away from us before, and tonight you could see the concentration in the second half.”
TIGRES UANL IN DEPTH
Famously referred to as the Liga MX team of the decade after winning domestic league championships since 2011, they are a deep block defensive team who has been enormously effective in staying compact - a strategy that has caused issues for LAFC in the past. Tigres also possess some of the most dangerous attacking forces on the continent in André-Pierre Gignac and Luis Quiñones. They are a side that focuses on in-swinging crosses, an element that has proven difficult for LAFC to contend with at times in 2020.
FINALLY, A FINAL
The Black & Gold have never been shy about their expectations on the pitch.
“We go into everything trying to win it,” said LAFC Co-President John Thorrington. “Hoping to win it. Expecting to win it, and when we don't, it leaves great disappointment.”
In three short years, the Club has been knocked out of a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Semifinal in penalties to the Houston Dynamo in 2018 and faltered to Seattle Sounders FC in the MLS Cup Playoff Semifinals 3-1 in 2019. After fighting through the most adversity the Club has ever faced this year, finally, the Club can boast a spot in the final of arguably the toughest competition they have entered.
LAFC WILL WIN IF
Carlos Vela can carry the mentality he has been playing with into this next match. Forget the goals, though those are obviously important too, but the leadership and fight that he exemplified against América ignited a spark under the rest of the squad. LAFC has successfully focused on playing their style of football against both Cruz Azul and América – if they can continue to play the way they want to play and fight for two full halves, they will win this Final.
TIGRES UANL CAN WIN IF
LAFC concede an early goal. Tigres are an organized, compact team that is eager and willing to defend. LAFC has come from behind in each of their last three CCL rounds, and Tigres have been ahead and held onto their lead in each of their last three rounds. They can win if they can go up early and then defend.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT…
· Deep Ties: LAFC Assistant Mike Sorber was one of the first Americans to play in Liga MX and played for Tigre’s Manager, Tuca Ferreti, when both were at Pumas UNAM in the 90’s.
· LAFC has struggled in the past against strong strikers with aerial prowess. They will certainly have to pay close attention to André-Pierre Gignac throughout the match. Gignac has five goals in Champions League, tied for the lead in the competition with Carlos Vela.
· This match will be another classic battle of styles, between an LAFC squad looking to press high and stay on their front foot, and a Tigres side aiming to get one early and then drop back.
· Eduard Atuesta will officially miss the final due to a red card received in the semifinal following an altercation with Club América goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. One of the most important pieces of the LAFC midfield will be sorely missed.