Concacaf craziness: LAFC reaches final after inspired comeback

LAFC became just the fourth MLS team to reach the final of the Concacaf Champions League when it defeated Club America, 3-1, in Saturday's semifinals.

Real Salt Lake (2011), the Montreal Impact (2015) and Toronto (2018) all advanced to title game in two-leg series, but none had to overcome what LAFC did in 90 minutes against Club America to reach Tuesday's final against Tigres, a 3-0 winner over Olimpia of Honduras.

Playing in its first Concacaf Champions League, LAFC became the first MLS team to eliminate three Liga MX teams in a single competition, but not before it learned a tough lesson about Concacaf gamesmanship.

LAFC trailed on a goal by Sebastian Caceres in the 11th minute but was the more enterprising team for the rest of the first half before Colombian midfielder Eduard Atuesta was given a red card in stoppage time.

Atuesta appeared to have been fouled for a penalty kick, but as play moved to the other end following the no-call, veteran American keeper Guillermo Ochoa hovered over Atuesta, who was laying on the ground. As Atuesta stood up, Ochoa went to ground himself, writing in pain as though he had been head-butted in the face. Despite what appeared to by minimal contact, if any, Costa Rican referee Juan Gabriel Calderon bought Ochoa's theatrics and ejected Atuesta.

LAFC coach Bob Bradley's view of what happened? “I've gotten a lot of text messages from people who have seen replays, from people who saw exactly who initiated the problem between Ochoa and Eduard. I've been told by many people that Eduard didn't do anything, so I've not seen it yet, but, man, I got so many messages.”

LAFC could have been distracted by the injustice of the red card to its best midfielder and the halftime skirmish that resulted in a red card to America coach Miguel Herrera for grabbing LAFC assistant Ante Razov by the hair. ("El Piojo" inexplicably spent the second half sitting in the stands with a walkie-talkie in his hands.)

But LAFC came out and scored two goals after 13 and 84 seconds of the second half to take the lead. Both goals were scored by Carlos Vela from the same spot on the left side of the penalty, the first when he stole Caceres' lazy pass and the second after being fed by defender Eddie Segura.

"At halftime," said Bradley, "we felt that we would still win the game. I mean, I didn't expect that a couple minutes into the second half Carlos would have already scored twice. But the mentality at halftime, the intensity throughout the second half, the way guys like Pancho [Francisco Ginella] and Latif [Blessing] came on and were able to help. Just a team effort where the commitment and the intensity was just awesome."



America had its chances but never in an organized manner seemed ready to break down 10-man LAFC. Las Aguilas faded as the second half went on and were also reduced to 10 players when Luis Reyes was red carded for a foul on Diego Rossi in the 79th minute. In stoppage time, LAFC clinched the victory when Blessing scored on a rebound of Rossi's breakaway attempt stopped by Ochoa.

LAFC won the MLS Supporters' Shield in 2019, its second season in MLS, but Saturday's win was the biggest single victory in its three-year history, especially after losses in its two previous semifinal appearances, to the Houston Dynamo in the 2018 Open Cup and to the Seattle Sounders in the 2019 MLS playoffs.

“I've been lucky with some different teams along the way where you remember these nights," Bradley said, "you remember what it was like in a game where it seemed like you had no chance, but, man, everybody kept going and you didn't give up."



Dec. 19 in Orlando, Fla.
LAFC 3 Club America (Mexico) 1. Goals: Vela 46, 47, Blessing 90+5; Caceres 11.
LAFC -- Vermeer; Blackmon, Segura, Murillo, Palacios; Atuesta, Cifuentes (Ginella 69), Kaye; Musovski (Blessing 45), Rossi, Vela.
Club America -- Ochoa; Caceres, Fuentes, Juarez (Martinez 58), R.Sanchez (Ibarguen 68); Caseres (Naveda 83), Reyes, J.Sanchez; Vinas, Cordova (Escoboza 83), Suarez (Diaz 83).
Red Cards: LAFC -- Atuesta 45+7; Club America -- Reyes 79.

Photos: Concacaf.com/MexSport

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8 comments about "Concacaf craziness: LAFC reaches final after inspired comeback".
  1. Gary Levitt, December 20, 2020 at 7:18 a.m.

    I have been a Club America supporter as the Mexican league, other than Soccer Made In Germany, was the only consistent soccer I could watch as a kid.  I am totally ashamed of the entire CA team and their so-called renowned manager, Miguel Herrera.  I am not a fan of "black-balling" but I hope that most major clubs around the world never consider Herrera as their manager.  Memo: your play-acting is childish - you are an excellent keeper but obviously your mentality and gamesmanship is representative of a low-life.  I am very happy that CA is out of the CCL - embarrassing for this part of the world.  

  2. Michael Fall, December 20, 2020 at 8:57 a.m.

    How embarrassing for Ochoa! Bravo to LAFC for continuing to play by punishing America with 3 goals! "Cheaters never prosper".

  3. Ben Myers, December 20, 2020 at 1 p.m.

    The officiating was some of the worst I have ever seen.  Both teams were pounding on each other, shirt grabs, arm grabs, near-violent shoulder charges, forearms into the ribs when shoulder to shoulder, and the referee did not call many obvious fouls.  So he lost control of the match, knowing full well the unsavory reputation of Club America, and showed too little yellow cards too late.  Foul play escalated and tempers flared into pushing and shoving matches.

    Vela is a force, whether with LAFC or the Mexican men's national team.  Berhalter, take heed.

  4. R2 Dad replied, December 20, 2020 at 9:59 p.m.

    This officiating is exactly what I would expect from CONCACAF. Diving, non-calls, no control--this is how it has always been. And the main reason why I don't believe CONCACAF can improve as a confederation until the officiating is fixed.

  5. Frans Vischer, December 20, 2020 at 1:51 p.m.

    Ben, Vela has refused to play for Mexico for years now, so we fortunately won't have to face him in qualifying. 
    I am disgusted by Ochoa's behavior, rolling around like a minivan drove over him- he's a good keeper, and I used to like him, but I lost all respect for him yesterday. Club America as a whole generally went for the rough stuff.
    Kudos to LAFC and Bob Bradley, for keeping their cool, sticking to their game, and some luck on a horrendous defensive pass. I'm a Galaxy fan, but my hat's off to LAFC, and MLS, you done me proud! Now take it to Tigres!

  6. Chris Keeney, December 20, 2020 at 3:53 p.m.

    Club America is an embarrassment.  Complete lack of integrity despite all of their technical ability and history.  Their fans cannot be comfortable with this weak behavior and should demand new leadership if nothing is addressed.   Justice served by the result.

  7. humble 1, December 21, 2020 at 11:34 a.m.

    Shame.  Bit of a sh*t show.  I did not watch the game - only the highlights - those were shocking.  So easy to see the dives and the uncalled hand-ball, on replay, astounding that with VAR this kind of play-acting continues.  It was the dearth of the NBA back in the day, when it was dive-central - and - when it was happening in the NBA the refs were part of the 'game'.  I cannot help but feel it is the same here.  What the Liga MX does not realize is that this 'silly' aspect of their game, along with their walk back from pro/rel, keeps it where it is in the context of the global competitive landscape - not very marketable outside of the Mexican markets in Mexico and the US. 

  8. Craig Cummings, December 25, 2020 at 9:24 p.m.

    Randy will say the refs did a sub job call. The Refs have not been  good.

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