We’ve been here before. This exact score. This exact opponent. This exact tournament. A 2-0 lead is not safe in our house and…
BAH GAWD THAT’S DÉNIS BOUANGA’S MUSIC!
In the stoppage time of stoppage time, he arrived in the center of the box. The Concacaf Champions League leading scorer swept a half volley past a helpless Rodolfo Cota in the León goal. Largely anonymous throughout the matches other 96 minutes, Bouanga surfaced to give LAFC and its traveling fans a reminder: We don’t quit.
And then he went off.
Bouanga screamed to the heavens and at the hostile crowd as he peeled down the touchline. It was cathartic. An exorcism of the demons that plagued the Black & Gold the entire night at Estadio León. I mean, he celebrated hard.
And I loved it. It was braggadocios. It was the personification of the energy and confidence LAFC needs on Sunday at BMO Stadium.
After that match, LAFC knows it really can’t play much worse. But it’ll still take a bit of swagger, a lot of running, and an unyielding belief that they can play better.
Here are the Takeaways from LAFC’s 2-1 defeat to León in the away leg of the CCL final:
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Get A Rhythm
León raced out of the blocks to start the match. They were first to everything. They were intense. And they refused to give LAFC a millisecond of solace.
Credit to León head coach Nicolás Larcamón. I think we all thought his team’s lack of competitive matches since May 7 would be a hindrance. Instead, his team looked like a pack of caged lions unleashed on the Black & Gold.
They pushed and pulled and stretched LAFC through the entire first half. Every pass, every action was challenged. The LAFC players never got comfortable. They never found a rhythm. And that suited León just fine.
The match was completely on the home side’s terms. León dictated the pace and physicality of the match and LAFC had no answer and were fortunate – depending on how you look at the VAR intervention that resulted in the penalty call – to only be down two goals at halftime.
Set Pieces Will Still Be A Thing
If you’re looking for a silver lining, you could say León wasn’t able to score against LAFC from open play. Factually, totally accurate. But it’s lacking some context.
John McCarthy might be the only reason León didn’t find the back of the net during the run of play. He made five saves. Many of them were above-average difficulty. And, oh yeah, León was pretty scary on set pieces, including the opening goal.
That’s important because as León travels to Los Angeles with a one-goal lead, they’d love nothing more than to play a match in starts and stops, with plenty of fouls, and ample set-piece opportunities to break LAFC hearts.
Over the course of this past year, in the most important matches, it’s been LAFC punishing opponents with restarts punctuated by timely goals. León capitalized in leg one of this final. And I think set pieces still have a part to play in the story of this final.
A Third Becomes A First
It was a foul. But for a moment, we all thought it was a goal.
And to reiterate, it was a foul.
But again, for a moment there, we all felt broken. I know I did. I think this team is one of the best I’ve ever seen in MLS. I’m also aware that reality exists. And a 3-0 hill is tough for even the best teams to recover from.
Getting to 2-1 was the reward for not accepting 2-0, despite the risk. It’s the kind of urgency and commitment the team must carry into Sunday.
There’s still everything to play for. It’s going to be a wild finish befitting the biggest trophy in the region.