LAFC vs. León – Football Match Report – June 4, 2023

Leon beat LAFC 1-0 in the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League final at BMO Stadium on Sunday to win its first-ever continental title by a final score of 3-1 on aggregate.

LAFC came into the match trailing 2-1 from the first leg in Leon, looking to overturn that deficit and make it back-to-back Champions League title for MLS after Seattle Sounders FC beat beat Pumas in last year’s final.

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But despite a good showing in the opening 20 minutes, the hosts found themselves behind when Ivan Moreno broke down the right flank and picked out Lucas Di Yorio in the center of the area to beat John McCarthy with a first-time shot.

From there on Leon had the better of possession and chances on goal, easily passing its way through LAFC’s experimental five-man backline, which looked disorganized and confused in the opening 45 minutes.

Happy to concede possession, Leon did well to absorb pressure in a compact 4-2-3-1 formation that focused on quickly winning the ball back. With little trouble against an LAFC attack that only hit the target once in the first half, Leon manager Nicolas Larcamon and his roster headed into the break with a 3-1 aggregate lead.

LAFC manager Steve Cherundolo put Jose Cifuentes on for Giorgio Chiellini at half-time and pulled Carlos Vela, who’d been largely ineffective throughout, in the 64th minute as the home side continued to try to find a way back into the game.

“We were a bit surprised by Steve’s tactical change,” Leon manager Nicolas Larcamon admitted. “I think that it was one of the first challenges in the second leg of the final.”

Shortly before 70 minutes, Lucas Romero clashed heads with Aaron Long, who was attempting to head a loose ball in from the top of the six-yard box with both players requiring attention on the field from their teams’ medical staff.

Moreno was able to play on, but LAFC was forced to bring Denil Maldonado on for Long, who left the pitch holding a towel to his head with the assistance of two team staff.

In all, Cherundolo made six changes to his team in the second, but it was to no avail as Leon continued to frustrate the 2022 MLS Cup champions and saw out 10 minutes of second-half stoppage time to earn a historic win for the club.

“There are no words,” Leon midfielder Fidel Ambriz told TUDN after the match. “A very, very special day for me. I’m very happy, overjoyed to be able to achieve something with the team from my city, where I was born.”

The result earns Leon a spot in next year’s Club World Cup, which will be held from Dec. 12-22 in Saudi Arabia. Leon also earned an automatic bid to the expanded 32-team Club World Cup that begins in 2025.

With Leon finishing the 2023 Clausura in sixth place and making an early exit from the play-in round of the postseason, Larcamon has found a way to close out his first season with the club on a very positive note. Taking charge of Leon late in 2022, the 38-year-old Argentine coach is widely regarded as one of the more promising managerial names in the region.

LAFC will now carry on with its 2023 MLS season at against Atlanta United on Wednesday. With a 7W-4D-1L record, the southern California club currently sits third in the Western Conference standings.

Both LAFC and Leon, as well as the rest of all teams from MLS and Liga MX, will enter the expanded 2023 edition of the Leagues Cup tournament in July. Running from July 21 through Aug. 19. The international competition will provide three teams with invitations to the next CCL tournament that will be reformatted next year.

“Everybody would prefer this game at the end of the [MLS] season,” Cherundolo said. “Who knows? Maybe our Concacaf officials here tonight can work on the scheduling.

“I think with our scheduling and all the competitions this year, we had a lot going on and we ended up in the final not at our best moment. Roster building is about that and having deeper rosters and more players, quality players on your team … every MLS team is at a disadvantage there.”

Beginning in 2024, the CCL will increase from 16 teams to 27. Since the start of the reimagined Champions League era of the competition in 2008, Liga MX clubs have won all but one edition of the tournament.