During Sunday night’s second leg of the Concacaf Champions League final, a homemade banner hung in the second deck of BMO Stadium’s northern end, home of Los Angeles FC’s most avid fans.
The white sheet featured LAFC’s crest and a message in Spanish in black letters trimmed in gold. The translation into English: “Tonight, your fans are going to party.”
At 8.04pm local time, when the final whistle sounded, Mexico’s Club León cancelled that anticipated celebration.
Thanks to Lucas Di Yorio’s first-half goal, the visitors survived a physical match to earn a 1-0 victory against LAFC in front of 22,413 fans, securing the regional club championship 3-1 on aggregate.
León thus won the tournament for the first time in their first appearance since 1993, when the competition was called the Concacaf Champions’ Cup. That year, Los Esmeraldas tied Costa Rica’s Saprissa for first place in the final round-robin group but finished second on goal difference.
León’s victory means a Mexican club has won the tournament 14 times in 15 years. León also earned a berth in the Fifa Club World Cup, which will take place in December in Saudi Arabia.
“They deserved to win over the two legs,” said LAFC midfielder Kellyn Acosta, who played for the United States in last year’s World Cup. “They played a very mature game. It’s a team that’s tactically sound, well coached and causes problems. They were very frustrating to play against.”
Nevertheless, LAFC took early control with a combination of possession, high pressure and midfield width through a rarely used 3-4-3 formation – and almost took the lead in the second minute. Mateusz Bogusz’s pass freed Diego Palacios for a run along the left wing. But Palacios’ cross skipped off the feet of Denis Bouanga, the tournament’s leading scorer, seven yards from the goal.
“León brought us a lot of challenges in the first leg and we wanted to adapt to that,” Acosta said. “We wanted to have that attacking-minded approach, get a lot of our attacking guys forward, get our outside backs a little bit higher up the field and try to create chances in that sense.”
Then in the 20th minute, León exploited defensive mistakes to score.
Fidel Ambríz found Iván Moreno unmarked on the right wing and sent him the ball. Moreno then found an unmarked Di Yorio, who fired a shot off the right hand of goalkeeper John McCarthy for his first goal of the tournament.
“It was a soft goal, a goal that was easy to defend,” said LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo. “From my experiences in this game as a player, the higher up you go, the less chances you get, and the better you have to be defensively. You can’t let good opponents get any looks at your goal, or any good looks, at least.
“Our left side fell asleep and lost track of a player. It’s really that simple and it ended up hurting us.”
LAFC’s best chance to tie the game came in the 79th minute, after José Cifuentes found an unmarked Kwadwo Opoku in the penalty area. But onrushing goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota stopped Kwadwo at point-blank range at the edge of the six-yard area. Cota finished with three saves for his fourth shutout of the tournament.
“When you lose the midfield against a great team,” LAFC midfielder Ilie Sánchez said, “you’re probably going to lose the game.”
The physical match featured 36 fouls, 10 yellow cards, 10 minutes of second-half stoppage time and four players who left due to injury.
For Acosta, Wednesday night’s 2-1 loss at León proved too difficult to overcome.
“I mean, we were lucky we didn’t lose 5-0,” he said. “We didn’t play our game. We made it too easy on them by not being clean with the ball, giving the ball away, allowing easy transitions. But you know, we gave ourselves a chance with the away goal.”
Sánchez expressed his frustration more emotionally.
“We are so sad because we earned the right to play the second leg at home in front of the best friends you could ask for and we haven’t delivered,” he said. “That’s on us. We owe them and this club one more trophy.”
McCarthy, who also had four shutouts, was named the tournament’s leading goalkeeper. Bouanga, with seven goals, finished as its leading scorer. Ambriz won the award for the best young player and León forward Victor Davila was the player of the tournament.