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PREVIEW: CONCACAF Champions League Final

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We are nearing the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Final, where LAFC will face off against Club Leon.
It’ll be the second time these two clubs face each other after they faced off in the round of 16 in 2020.

In that edition, the Black and Gold reached the final when the tournament had to resume in the bubble in Orlando during the pandemic.

A lot of things have changed since then.

Trip to Memory Lane

In 2020, LAFC was starting to make a name for themselves internationally. It was the first time the club had participated at the international level and was facing off against a Leon team that was the best team in Mexico then. Leon won a championship a year prior and had been top 2 on the table for two consecutive seasons. The team managed by Nacho Ambriz was considered the best team in Mexico and the one that played the best football. LAFC was in similar shape coming off a historic season in 2019. The Black and Gold won the Supporters’ Shield with a then-record 72 points and reached the Western Conference final, losing to Seattle 1-3.

Club Leon beat LAFC 2-0 in the first leg with goals from Jean Meneses and Angel Mana. It was the perfect start for Leon and the worst for an LAFC team that didn’t offer much during the game. LAFC would have to play a perfect match in the return leg, which is exactly what happened. Carlos Vela scored the first goal in the first 25 minutes, pushing LAFC forward. A second Vela Goal in the 77th minute would tie the tie, and a Diego Rossi goal two minutes would be enough to send LAFC through.

Strong at Home

Home advantage is crucial in two-leg ties and even more important in a final, which is no surprise that both teams in the final have a pretty good record at home. LAFC registers seven wins, a draw, and only one defeat across all competitions this season. Conversely, Leon has seven wins, two draws, and three losses at home this season across all competitions.

While their home records are similar, and both are in the final, their league records are not that similar. LAFC currently sits on top of the West with 25 points with two games in hand, this after winning last year’s Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup. Meanwhile, Leon’s season has not been the most convincing. The team ended in 6th place and had to play a playoff game at home vs. San Luis in order to book a ticket into “La Liguilla.” Unfortunately for them, they lost 1-3 in the most important game of the league season.

Things to Consider

LAFC must leave Mexico with a positive result, a win, draw, or even a loss by a goal wouldn’t be the worst of outcomes. The advantage is ending the tie at home in front of your fans, just like it was proven a key factor last year when LAFC won all their playoff games at home. All of the players will be crucial, but the midfield and defense will have to be perfect in Leon. We can assume Leon will look to take control of the game, and LAFC being more conservative, like a lot of games this season away from home.

We have to remember Jesus Murillo will miss the first leg due to yellow card accumulation, and Giorgio Chiellini has been hurt for a while, and it isn’t certain that he will play as well. Denil Maldonado has been doing a great job in Chiellini’s absence, but this will be his first final for the team, arguably the biggest game of his club career.

LAFC’s offensive power will also play an important part, depending on the number of chances and involvement in the game. Denis Bouanga has had an amazing start to the season in MLS and the Champions League, being the top scorer in both competitions so far. Carlos Vela, on the other hand, had a dominant run back in 2020 when LAFC faced four Mexican teams and scored five goals. Vela never really played in Liga MX, but he does seem to know how to play against them.

The question now is who will be the third man upfront, Opoku, Buik, or Bogusz?

Opoku seems like the obvious choice considering he has more experience, played the 2020 edition, and has been the starter for most of this season. But both Bogus and Biuk have shown little things that have shown improvement in the last few weeks.

Biuk scored last weekend against San Jose and was named man of the match in the 2-1 victory.

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