Despite all of LAFC’s successes in the first six seasons, one thing is still missing from the club’s trophy case: a CONCACAF Champions League Crown.
And the team still have work to do if they hope to clinch another title this season after scoring twice in the first half in a 2-1 defeat leon in the first game of Wednesday’s two-part CCL finals in Guanajuato, Mexico.
But things could have been worse: a third León goal was nullified when Osvaldo Rodríguez was fouled just before his injury-time header. Four minutes later, Denis Bouanga scored for LAFC, halving the lead his side need to regain in Sunday night’s playoff second leg at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles.
With the CCL being determined by the total number of goals scored in the two games, LAFC must win the second leg by a goal to force overtime and by a two-goal margin to finally win the title. Anything else and León will be 17thth The Mexican club has won the region’s most prestigious club competition in 18 years.
León were eliminated in the opening round of the Liga MX playoffs earlier this month, making Wednesday’s game the team’s first in 24 days. But the rust didn’t show, as the home side played in the high altitude and 85-degree heat of the central Mexican plateau, dominating from the start and taking just eight minutes to get onto the scoreboard.
After LAFC keeper John McCarthy deflected a right-hand shot from Alfonso Alvarado just enough to parry wide, León scored on the ensuing corner kick, with captain William Tesillo having his back to goal and passing Timothy Tillman to head off an Ángel Mena cross into an unguarded outside of the post.
Elías Hernández, wide open on the left side of the box, almost scored another 23 minutes later but his right-footed shot went just wide of the right post.
That didn’t matter much, however, as Mena doubled the lead in first-half added time, putting a left-footed penalty into the net after LAFC’s Ryan Hollingshead was called for a handball from a corner kick.
That was only the second time in seven CCL games that LAFC had conceded multiple goals. And it wasn’t even halftime.
LAFC, on the other hand, saw José Cifuentes fire a shot on goal in the first minute and then went without another goal for more than an hour, with Stipe Biuk testing León goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota for the second time in the 64th minuteth Minute.
León, who seemed to run out of breath at times in the second half, seemed to have established an insurmountable lead when Rodríguez, charging into the box on the left wing, leaped at LAFC’s Sergi Palencia and shouldered off a cross.
However, referee Walter Lopez ruled that Rodríguez had gone over Palencia’s back and pushed off with his hands, and disallowed the goal.
Minutes later, Bouanga took a pass from Mateusz Bogusz in the center of the box and fired a right footed shot into the bottom left corner for his seventh goal in as many CCL games, making Sunday’s task far less challenging for LAFC .
León is playing in the CONCACAF final for the first time since 1993, when the tournament was still called the Champions Cup and MLS was three years away from its first game. But it has played against LAFC in this event before, in 2020, when they scored two goals at home in the round of 16 and won.
LAFC then won the second leg 3-0 in Los Angeles, where the teams meet again this weekend. LAFC have lost just 14 times in 103 games at their stronghold Exposition Park, which is already sold out on Sunday.
After eliminating León, LAFC reached the CCL finals in 2020, but with the tournament suspended by the coronavirus pandemic, it was not possible to play at home. Instead, the final three rounds were played at an empty stadium in Orlando, Florida, where LAFC lost 2-1 to Mexico’s Tigres in the league game.
LAFC are the first MLS team to play twice in the CCL Finals and they could make even more history on Sunday if a win would make them the first team this century to win both MLS titles – the Supporters’ Shield and the MLS Cup – as well as the CCL title holds the same time.