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LAFC loses to Alajuelense but advances in CONCACAF Champions League

LAFC's José Cifuentes is defended by Alajuelense's Yael Lopez during the second half of a CONCACAF Champions League match.
LAFC’s José Cifuentes (20) is defended by Alajuelense’s Yael Lopez during the second half of a CONCACAF Champions League match on Wednesday at BMO Stadium.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)
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It’s better to be lucky than good. But what if you can be both?

There’s no question LAFC is good. The team won everything there was to win in MLS last season, then opened this season with three straight victories in which it scored 10 times.

Now good fortune appears to be smiling on the team as well, with LAFC advancing to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League despite Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Costa Rican club Alajuelense at BMO Stadium.

The CCL is played in two-leg home-and-away series, with the combined score determining the winner. LAFC won the first leg 3-0 last week in Costa Rica, so Wednesday’s one-goal loss wasn’t enough to keep it from moving on since it won 4-2 in the aggregate.

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“We are happy to be around for another competition, which was the objective,” LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo said.

And LAFC’s good fortune might be following it into next month’s quarterfinals, where the team will meet the Vancouver Whitecaps. Vancouver has had one winning season in MLS play since 2017 while LAFC has been the most successful team in the league over that span.

In addition, just one of the four teams remaining on LAFC’s side of the bracket comes from Mexico while as many as three of the four finalists on the other side could come from the Liga MX, depending on Thursday’s results. Avoiding Mexican teams is key to making a deep run in the CCL, the region’s most prestigious club tournament, since the Liga MX claimed 16 consecutive titles before the Seattle Sounders won last year’s competition.

Gio Reyna was named to the latest U.S. Soccer roster despite controversy surrounding his parents’ meddling in response to his limited playing time.

March 15, 2023

“It’s a Champions League quarterfinal. Every matchup should be tough,” Cherundolo said. “We like our chances.”

First they had to get past Alajuelense, which needed a big win to stay alive. And the Costa Ricans came out strong, taking the lead in the eighth minute on a penalty-kick goal from former Galaxy defender Giancarlo González. The score was set up when a lengthy video review ended with LAFC’s Giorgio Chiellini being called for a handball in the box.

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The deficit was the first LAFC, playing for the fourth time in 11 days, has faced this season. Defender Aaron Long nearly erased it in the 15th minute when he headed a corner kick off the crossbar, and LAFC was denied again just before halftime when Alajuelense keeper Lionel Moreira made a spectacular save on a point-blank try from Stipe Biuk, one of 26 LAFC shots on the night.

That allowed Alajuelense’s Aaron Suárez to double the lead seven minutes into the second half when he lifted a rebound over LAFC keeper John McCarthy, pulling Alajuelense to within a goal of LAFC in the aggregate score. Another spectacular save from Moreira six minutes later — this one a leaping, one-handed deflection of a Carlos Vela header — kept the score 2-0.

Vela flicked in a left-footed shot in the 83rd minute for his second goal of the year.

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