Club León defeat LAFC, 1-0, to claim Champions League

LAFC lost 1-0 to Club León in the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League Final on Sunday night at BMO Stadium. León won the series 3-1 on aggregate.

LOS ANGELES — There was infinite hope from LAFC’s ardent supporters that their beloved team could overcome a 1-goal deficit in the Concacaf Champions League Final, as their pyrotechnics and pregame sent a singular message: “FINISH IT” read their tifo while golden smoke filled the air.  

But more firepower came from the 3252 than the team they loyally sang their hearts out for. Ultimately, LAFC were held goalless, permitted one from their opponent, and lost 1-0 to Club León (3-1 on aggregate). A month ago, LAFC were competing for five titles. Now, they are down to 3. Yet, the bottom line for LAFC is not that this was a failed experiment, but that they must set their bar for performance higher.

For the third-placed Western Conference MLS team, league play has not given them enough competition to be at an international level yet. “What can we improve on?” head coach Steve Cherundolo retorted. “Our football, our passing, creating chances creatively, the box entries, our final pass, our finish.”

León came to LA with a 2-1 aggregate advantage after winning the opening leg of the CCL Final on Wednesday. After nearly fifteen minutes of LA defining the parameters of the match and the direction as they battled valiantly to push León into a corner, in an instant, the momentum shifted when unmarked Lucas Di Yorio scored a simple shot down the left side of LAFC’s backline.

John McCarthy was unable to react quickly enough to divert it away from the net. “You let one in, and you’re chasing the game,” Cherundolo asserted. This game is not about tactics it’s about moments and mentality.” In a moment, the hosts needed three goals to defeat León whose own pride had just skyrocketed. La Fiera could taste victory was close at hand, even if there were 70 minutes left.

Throughout a feisty, bloody and foul-rich match, LAFC attempted to play on León’s aggressive terms by pushing, shoving, sometimes head butting, but it was nowhere near the level required to dent León’s lead. While León were again able to invade LAFC’s box 6 out of 7 times they shot at the goal, LAFC were only able to infiltrate León’s for five of their 14 shots taken, none of which eluded the skillful Rodolfo Cota.

Club León, who won their first CCL trophy takes home the ultimate prizes LAFC were seeking, the title and another trophy for their collection, prize money and a place in two upcoming FIFA Club World Cup tournaments. But, as it became clear over this week, they’re not yet ready to play a final at the international level.

There are a number of reasons MLS teams are at a disadvantage in the Concacaf Champions League, ranging from depth of roster due to financial cap rules, to midseason fitness and scheduling, but a humbled and contrite Ilie Sánchez bluntly expressed that what lies ahead for LAFC is simply more work. “I have to play better, so that’s gonna be my example for the others. Trying to work harder and better for the next games. But I haven’t been able to perform at my best. And, I think we as a team have not been able to do that either.” There are still 3 tournaments LAFC remain locked in for this year, but one question lingers… what if they had not allowed a potential U.S. Open Cup to slip through their fingers.