LAFC vs. Club America In Semifinals on Saturday
One Win Away from Concacaf Champions League Title Match
December 17, 2020
"I think Carlos has set a fantastic tone for everybody," said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley about team captain and forward Carlos Vela during Friday's virtual online media conference. "He's our leader. He brings us so much experience and personality. And we know for sure when we play the big Mexican teams, he has extra motivation."
Los Angeles Football Club is MLS's remaining hope to capture the 2020 Concacaf Champions League title and the very first to win the trophy since the current format began in 2008. They will take on Mexican power, Club America, for a Semifinals match this Saturday, December 19, 7:30 PT, at Exploria Stadium, Orlando, Florida.
Club America will be the third Liga MX club LAFC is facing in the tournament whose trophy is worthy of an MLS Cup title or a Supporters' Shield. LAFC won its first trophy: the 2019 Supporters' Shield when the club set a league record for most points (72) in a season. The Black and Gold advanced to the Semifinals by rallying to beat Club León (aggregate 3-2) in March before again rallying in the second half this past Wednesday, December 16, to beat Cruz Azul, 2-1, in the one-match Quarterfinals stage.
Carlos Vela scored the equalizer with a penalty kick against Cruz Azul in the 38th minute after he was taken down in the 18-yard box. Cruz Azul midfielder Yoshi Yotun converted a penalty kick for Cruz Azul in the 15th minute for the temporary lead. LAFC's aggressiveness paid off in the 71st minute when recently-signed 19-year old forward Kwadwo Opoku, from Ghana, drilled the winning goal from just outside the box.
"Play football that is different," replied Bradley. "Play football that the fans are excited and stand behind. So that becomes the way we try to go about it. We're pleased with the result and the effort against Cruz Azul, but man, we've got a big one coming up tomorrow night.
Club America has some excellent players that break quickly and move forward. Midfielder Francisco Cordova, forward Roger Martinez and forward Federico Viñas have ability to take balls on the move get into goal-scoring positions. They're smart defensively said Bradley: "They pick their moments to go and try to win the ball. When you play through them, they do a really good job of recovering and clogging the middle of the field. Club America is managed by Miguel Herrera.
Veteran Kenneth Vermeer was named starting goalkeeper for Saturday's match. He was also in the nets in the 2-1 Quarterfinals victory over Cruz Azul, conceding only the penalty kick. Cruz Azul only took seven shots during the match, three attempts were off-target and three were blocked as Vermeer didn't have to make a save.
Opoku substituted for forward Danny Musovski in the 58th minute that paid dividends 13 minutes later. Bradley has more plans for Musovski against Club America: "But he still brings us some really good qualities as a striker. Everyone knows he's improved a lot this year. And these are a test. These are high-level games. I think he's capable of doing really good things. He still got himself a chance or two, and we feel just getting him back on the field is a plus. And there's more for him in the game tomorrow."
LAFC's projected lineup for Club America will be the same as it was against Cruz Azul, with perhaps Opoku starting instead of Musovski. Vermeer in goal; defenders - Diego Palacios, Eddie Segura, Jesus Murillo and Tristan Blackmon; midfielders – Eduard Atuesta, Jose Cifuentes and Mark-Anthony Kaye; forwards - Carlos Vela, Rossi, and Musovski or Opoku.
Club America is likely to field: goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa; defenders – Jesus Escoboza, Jorge Sanchez, Ramon Juarez, Santiago Caseres and Sebastian Caseres; midfielders – Francisco Cordova, Leonardo Gabriel Suarez, Richard Sanchez; forwards – Federico Viñas and Roger Martinez. However, they are projected to start a 4-4-2 formation against LAFC as opposed to the 5-3-2 they started in their 1-0 loss to Atlanta United FC on Wednesday.
The winner will advance to the CCL Final on Tuesday, December 22, against the winner of the Tigres UANL and Olimpia Semifinals match. Only seven Major League Soccer teams have made it to the Semifinals. Real Salt Lake (2010-11) was the only MLS team to advance to the Final, losing in aggregate 2–2, with Pachuca winning on away goals. D.C. United (1998) and the L.A. Galaxy (2000) are the only two Major League Soccer teams to have won the tournament in the previous Champions Cup Era format.
Bradley: "And we've set the bar high at LAFC. We're a young club. We haven't done enough, yet. But, to really make a history, to make your fans proud, you've got to get into these kind of events, and you've got to take them seriously. And most of all, you've got to step on the field and go for it."
"To do it against Club America is a big challenge, because they're good and they have some really top players. The different story lines don't matter when the game starts because the ability to get control from players that are really ready for the moment. That's the way we're preparing for things."