LAFC falls short in first leg against León in CONCACAF Champions League final

LAFC's Denis Bouanga is defended by León's Alfonso Alvarado during the first leg of the CONCACAF championship match.
LAFC’s Denis Bouanga, left, is defended by León’s Alfonso Alvarado during the first leg of the CONCACAF championship match at León stadium in Guanajuato, Mexico on Wednesday.
(Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press)
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For all of LAFC’s ccomplishments during its first six seasons, there is still one thing missing from the club’s trophy case: a CONCACAF Champions League crown.

The team has a lot of work to do if it wants to add that prize this season after giving up a pair of first-half goals in a 2-1 loss to León in the first game of the two-leg CCL final Wednesday in Guanajuato, Mexico. But it could have been worse: a third León goal was erased when Osvaldo Rodríguez was called for a foul just before scoring in stoppage time. Four minutes later, Denis Bouanga scored for LAFC, halving the margin his team will have to make up in the playoff’s return leg Sunday at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles.

And that was the silver lining coach Steve Cherundolo was taking home after watching his team get outplayed for most of the night.


“It’s a bit of a lifeline,” Cherundolo said of the Bouanga goal. “That goal does give us a chance. But that goal alone does not help us win a title. We need to be much better as a group.

“I think the scoreline is extremely lucky for us. But we are experienced enough, smart enough to bounce back. We’re also fit enough. And this team knows exactly what’s at stake.”

LAFC will play Mexico’s Léon on Wednesday in the two-leg CONCACAF Champions league final, the most important club competition in the region.

May 30, 2023

With the CCL determined by aggregate goals over the two games, LAFC needs to win the rematch by a goal to force extra time and by two goals to win the title outright. Anything short of that and León will become the 17th Mexican club in 18 years to win the region’s most prestigious club competition.

That would be quite a comeback for a team that was knocked out of the Liga MX playoffs in the opening round, making Wednesday’s game the team’s first in 24 days. Yet the rust didn’t show with León, playing in the altitude and 85-degree heat of the central Mexican plateau, dominating from the opening whistle and needing just eight minutes to get on the scoreboard.

After LAFC goalkeeper John McCarthy got just enough of his right hand on an Alfonso Alvarado shot to deflect it wide, León scored on the resulting corner kick with captain William Tesillo, his back to the goal, outjumping Timothy Tillman to head in Ángel Mena’s bending cross at an unguarded far post. Mena then doubled the lead deep in first-half stoppage time, lining a left-footed penalty kick into the roof of the net after LAFC’s Ryan Hollingshead was called for a handball on a corner kick.

That marked just the second time in seven CCL matches that LAFC gave up multiple goals. And it wasn’t even halftime yet.

León's William Tesillo celebrates with teammate Adonis Frias after scoring his team's first goal against LAFC.
León’s William Tesillo, left, celebrates with teammate Adonis Frias after scoring his team’s first goal against LAFC during the first leg of the CONCACAF championship final match at León stadium in Guanajuato, Mexico on Wednesday.
(Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press)

On the other end, José Cifuentes put a shot on goal in the opening minute, but LAFC didn’t get another for more than an hour, with Stipe Biuk testing León goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota for the second time in the 64th minute. So it fell to McCarthy to keep his team in the game by making five saves before Rodríguez, charging into the box on the left side, leaped over defender Sergi Palencia to knock in a cross with his shoulder in the second minute of stoppage time, giving León what would have been a nearly insurmountable lead heading into the second leg.

But Guatemalan referee Walter López ruled that Rodríguez had gone over the back of Palencia and quickly disallowed the goal. Four minutes later, Mateusz Bogusz curled a long cross from the right wing into the center of the box for Bouanga, who redirected it into the lower left corner for his seventh goal in as many CCL games, making LAFC’s task Sunday far less challenging.

“We’re obviously very disappointed with our performance today,” Cherundolo said. “I am 100% positive LAFC’s performance on Sunday will be much improved. This team showed a lot of guts to break up plays in the game and you’ll see a lot more that on Sunday.”

U.S. Soccer has named B.J. Callaghan its new interim men’s national team coach for summer tournaments after Anthony Hudson’s departure.

May 30, 2023

León is playing in the CONCACAF final for the first since 1993, when the tournament was called the Champions Cup and MLS was still three years away from its first game. But it has played LAFC in this event before, in 2020, when it scored twice to win at home in the round of 16.

LAFC then won the second leg 3-0 in Los Angeles, where the teams will reunite this weekend. LAFC has lost just 14 times in 103 games in its Exposition Park fortress, which is already sold out for Sunday.