LAFC vs. Tigres in Champions League Final
Black and Gold 3-0 vs Liga MX Clubs
December 17, 2020
LAFC's remarkable and tense 3-1 victory over Club America was the club's biggest win in its short but successful three-year history. And fittingly, team captain Carlos Vela was the catalyst and executioner in the 2020 Concacaf Champions League Semifinals contest played out in Exploria Stadium, Orlando, Florida, Saturday, December 19. Los Angeles Football Club will be the first MLS team to win the tournament if they beat Tigres UANL this Tuesday, December 22.
Bradley: "Getting to a Final is so special. And you could sense that our group going into the game tonight and even at halftime. That whole idea that we were going to not stop, that we were going to find a way to get into the Final. That was so clear. And that's the reason I'm so proud of these guys."
Trailing 1-0 and down to ten players, Vela delivered with lightning speed and reversed a dire situation with a couple of left footed strikes in the first two minutes of the second half. Club America never recovered from that 70 second blitzkrieg. LAFC maintained their composure and a 2-1 lead until Latif Blessing nailed the insurance goal in the final minute of stoppage time.
"Amazing effort by the guys," said LAFC head coach Bob Bradley. "At halftime we thought that we would still win the game. I didn't expect that a couple of minutes into the second half Carlos would already score twice. But the mentality at halftime, the intensity throughout the second half... Just a team effort where commitment and the intensity were just awesome."
"Carlos, it's special for him to play these teams. And it also comes in a year where obviously with different important family responsibilities, an MCL... he missed a lot. So, you can tell at the end of this year how much it means to him. And when that comes across to all the other players, that's obviously a special kind of leadership."
The match featured everything: disputed red cards, a bench-clearing scuffle at halftime, gamesmanship and emotions worn on sleeves. Club America put LAFC in a bind early when Sebastian Caceres delivered a header from a corner kick in the 11th minute. LAFC were denied excellent opportunities, i.e., Club America goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa's diving block prevented defender Eddie Segura's hard grounder from finding the back of the net.
Emotions ensued on the field when LAFC midfielder Eduard Atuesta was ejected just before halftime. Adding insult to injury, Atuesta was denied an obvious penalty kick after being fouled in the 18-yard box. Laying on the ground, he was baited by Ochoa into physical contact that drew him the red card. There is no VAR or video replay in the CCL tournament, thereby significantly reducing the referee crew's ability to review plays and flagrant antics. Minutes later both teams were involved in heated discussions as they scuffled off the field at halftime.
Bradley thought his players handled the pressure in the appropriate manner: "There's a sense that we're going in the right direction, that we understand better what the big games are all about... But in these type of games, the ability to be smart, to be aggressive, to know how to deal with tough situations, all these different things come into play."
Tigres from Liga MX are coming into the game with resounding wins in their recent CCL matches. They took out MLS's NYCFC 4-0 and 1-0 in the Quarterfinals. Tigres completed their three-match clean sheet with a 3-0 shutout over Olimpia in Saturday's other Semifinals contest. Andre-Pierre Gignac had a brace off of two penalty kicks and also glanced the third goal off Olimpia defender Elvin Casildo for an own-goal.
Tigres has a reputation for holding the lead once they get it. Forward Julian Quinones and midfielder Javier Aquino operate to control the game from the midfield. Aquino also scored a goal in the first match versus NYCFC. Tigres is a talented squad that is well-organized, with the ability to be very creative.
"Their wingers are dangerous, obviously," said midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye. "But throughout this year we've played against dangerous wingers. It's a challenge for sure, but you have to be ready for it. It's a big task but we're excited that we have this opportunity to go up against them."
"I think the biggest thing for us is to give them a game they haven't seen. We've been pretty good at doing that with these teams... We're going to try to make it as tough as possible on them by still playing our game."
Veteran goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer will again get the nod to start for LAFC as he has been the entire Champions League tournament. He stated that the team has been treating every single match in the CCL as a Final. But Tigres will be a completely different challenge than what LAFC saw with Club America.
Vermeer: "They had their tricks and... we almost fell for it but we kept playing our own game and luckily with our football we managed to win that game. But Tigres is a totally different team. They have a nice way of playing. They like to manage the game and we are a team that also tries to manage the game and play the games our way. I think it's going to be like an interesting game.
Forward Diego Rossi is confident about LAFC versus Tigres and the other Mexican League teams they've faced: "In the whole tournament they're really hard teams and we have to focus on our work, in our style, in our idea. And I think if we're focusing-in our idea, we try to play our football, then we're going to be good."
LAFC set a new CCL standard by being the first club to beat three Liga MX teams in the same competition. Club America was the third Liga MX team LAFC faced in the tournament that began nine months ago. Tigres will be the fourth. The Black and Gold rallied from a 2-0 opening match loss to eliminate Club Leon with a 3-0 shutout in the return match of the Round of 16 before defeating Cruz Azul, 2-1, in the Quarterfinals.
Bradley: "A Final against Tigres, a great institution. Some really top players. We have great respect for Tuca (Ferretti, Tigres manager). We've watched Tigres over the years, their football, the way they go about things. I think it sets up for a great Final."