The stage was perfect. Los Angeles at home, with the 3252 and the rest of the fans, perfect weather on a Sunday night, and the atmosphere as good as ever in a CONCACAF final.
It was the perfect scenario until the whistle blew.
LAFC could not turn things around in the second leg against Club Leon, falling 0-1 (1-3 aggregate) and losing their second Champions League Final.
The performance was slightly better compared to the first leg, but it was still nothing short of awful. It was an easier final for Leon than we all expected.
First Half Thrown Away
Cherundolo decided to start the match with a 5-3-2 lineup, which confused everyone considering the team has almost never played under such a system. On the field, the team played more in a 3-5-2, with Palencia and Palacios pushing up on the flanks. The first few minutes looked good from LAFC, and even had a few half chances at goal. But Leon quickly took over the game and scored in the 20th minute through Lucas Di Yorio.
During the play, you could see everything that was going wrong with this lineup. Palacios leaving his left side wide open, Chiellini and Palencia not knowing where they were and where their player was, a total mess at the back. Not only was the back three, Chiellini, Long, and Murillo, completely lost, but this system also affected Sanchez and Acosta. Both had a hard time taking over the midfield, often incapable of getting to challenges on time.
It is always risky to implement a new system that you have not utilized that much, but that is how you try and see if it works. In a major international final? It is an irresponsibility and falls heavily on the manager, who was tactically beaten in both legs over 180+ minutes. Timothy Tillman said before the first leg that he didn’t think Mexican teams were not as good tactically and were more about passion and 1 vs. 1. Well, after these two games, Liga MX might be thinking the same about LAFC.
Second Half is Not Enough
In the second half, the team went back to their usual 4-3-3, with Opoku and Cifuentes coming in for Chiellini and Bogusz. The team looked slightly better but could not produce anything in the attack. There were some half chances but nothing that caused Leon’s goalkeeper to struggle.
There were a few moments in the attack where the team could’ve produced something more, but their inability to create said chances got in their way. There was a moment where Opoku found himself with space inside the box and could’ve played a simple squared pass, first-touch, to Bouanga for the tap-in. Instead, he decided to control the ball and lost the opportunity.
These are the small details that can turn a half-chance into a goal. The details that separate the good players from the top players.
Time to Move on From Vela
When you think of LAFC, you think of Carlos Vela. He was the first player to come to the club, the captain, the leader, and “the guy.” But it might be time to move on from that. The team cannot rely on Vela to be “the savior,” to be the main guy, the leader on the field all the time. The speed isn’t the same anymore. The reactions, the passes, the dribbling, and the 1 vs. 1s aren’t the same anymore.
If we really think about it, when was the last time Vela was actually great across a whole season? Some might say last season; I say 2019.
Since then, it has been two years of most injuries and some really good games, but not what is expected. LAFC has played three finals since 2018; I don’t think he has been the deciding factor in any of them: the last two, MLS Cup and CCL being very poor performances.
Can he still be an asset and help the team out? Yes, he is still the leader in the dressing room and good enough to make some difference still. But should he still be the main guy leading the attack and the team in the sporting aspect? Not anymore.
Back Down to Reality
After the amazing 2022 season, where LAFC won the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup and the great start to this season, we thought we were unbeatable.
We thought this second leg was going to be the one that puts LAFC at that next level and even the best MLS team ever.
Well, we are now back to reality, a humbling defeat.