There’s no shame in losing to a team as good as Tigres UANL, but that doesn’t make Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat in the Concacaf Champions League Final any less painful for LAFC, considering how close they came to pulling off the upset.
In a game that most pregame predictions had Tigres winning handily, it was LAFC that were in the driver’s seat following Diego Rossi’s 61st-minute opener that put his team just 30 minutes from history. Then, there was a golden opportunity just four minutes later after Kwadwo Opoku beat his defender down the right side and found an open Carlos Vela in the box for the type of look the standout Mexico international has finished so many times before.
But in a crucial turning point in the match, Vela would see his shot blocked by a Tigres defender to keep it 1-0, allowing the Liga MX side to find a 72nd-minute equalizer from Hugo Ayala and an 84th-minute game-winner from Andre-Pierre Gignac.
“We’re very disappointed. I thought for 70 minutes we made the game very hard for them,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said.
“It’s a choppy game, it’s not always that the football’s perfect, but I thought our way of going after them and pushing the game for 70 minutes was quite good and we have a big chance when Mahala beats the defender and cuts the ball to Carlos to go to 2-0. And then we just, a misunderstanding between Kenneth Vermeer and Eddie Segura leads to a corner, we just don’t well in the front zone. And then Mark-Anthony Kaye has a chance in the back to maybe clear it.”
Another frustrating aspect of seeing Gignac lash home the game-winner was that LAFC had actually done an admirable job of keeping the star French striker at bay for most of the night until his late finish. But containing a player of that skill level requires staying mentally honed in through the entire 90 minutes, which Bradley said his team didn’t do on the fateful sequence leading up to the final goal.
And then the second goal, you could tell at that point now we start to get a little bit more careless, a little slower to close things down,” Bradley said. “We have so many guys back in position and we just don’t do a good enough job. [Luis] Rodriguez gets through and, you know, Gignac is a smart player. So he’s just waiting for the moment and the ball gets rolled across and it’s an excellent finish.
“Here’s what happened in the game: We stepped up and we put pressure on them,” he added. “We played, we closed down and we pressed them, and when you press a team and they have a difficult time getting forward then obviously a player like Gignac in that period of the game for 70 minutes isn’t able to do much. And then when the game turns around and now they get a little bit more space going forward, then he’s a good player and he can take advantage of it.”
The defeat denied LAFC what would have been a monumental historic accomplishment to close out their rollercoaster 2020 season, as a victory would have seen them become the first MLS team to win the modern iteration of the tournament. There’s certainly still a lot to take pride in. Bradley said he was proud of how his team approached the game and laid it all on the line for a result, and LAFC still made some history by becoming the first MLS team to ever knock out three Liga MX opponents in the competition.
Still, Bradley said there’s no getting around the feeling of disappointment at coming up short of finishing the job.
“I thought our way of going after the game tonight was real good and some moments not our sharpest. But still, the mentality to play in a final and push the game, that’s important,” he said. “So we end in a really disappointing way.”