CONCACAF Champions Cup
CONCACAF Champions League final: What LAFC's loss to León means
CONCACAF Champions Cup

CONCACAF Champions League final: What LAFC's loss to León means

Published Jun. 5, 2023 12:18 a.m. ET

LAFC fell short in its bid to become the second MLS team in as many years to win the CONCACAF Champions League title, losing a home game it couldn't afford to on Sunday 1-0 to Mexico's León – which took the two-match, total goals series 3-1 on aggregate.

Lucas Di Yorio scored the only goal the Liga MX side would need in the first half:

León advanced to the 2023 FIFA Club World Cup, which will be played later this year in Saudi Arabia.


Here are three quick takeaways from Sunday's contest:

León deserved its win

After León upset Tigres to advance to the CONCACAF finale, there was a sense that LAFC had dodged a bullet by drawing the less dangerous foe. Over two legs against MLS' best, León showed its lopsided overall victory was no fluke. León should've won last week's opener south of the border by more. But with LAFC needing just a one goal victory at home Sunday to send the series to extra time, the visitors instead again earned a convincing win.

Leon survived a slow start (and an early Dénis Bouanga miss) in the decider and soon found a rhythm. Nicolás Larcamó's team was again sharper on the ball than the hosts, who were again wasteful whenever they appeared to have any sort of opening. Di Yorio's goal gave his teammates the cushion they needed to kill off the game; that every stoppage afterward was expertly milked to maximum only added to LAFC's frustration.

The outcome showed that MLS still hasn't quite closed the gap on Liga MX; before the Seattle Sounders defeated Pumas to claim the regional crown in 2022, Mexican teams had captured the CONCACAF title for 16 years running. That MLS's highest-profile club couldn't equal the feat is a fascinating reality check ahead of the expanded Leagues Cup, a World Cup-style competition that will involve all MLS and Liga MX sides when it kicks off next month. With the tournament held exclusively in the U.S. and Canada, the pressure for an MLS team to win it just increased.

(Another) huge missed opportunity for LAFC

As much as a club that almost instantly become MLS's standard-bearer when it entered the league as an expansion team in 2018 relished last season's MLS Cup-supporters shield double, this is the trophy LAFC wanted over any other.

Just 20 minutes separated the black and gold from continental glory in 2020, only for Tigres to spoil the party with two late goals. It was a massive disappointment for arguably the most ambitious team in MLS. This setback — and in particularly the failure to take advantage of playing Sunday's pivotal contest in front of its own fans — will eat at LAFC's brass even longer.

A cruel twist for McCarthy

LAFC keeper John McCarthy had no business making several of the point-blank stops he somehow conjured in the first leg; before the second, his captain, Carlos Vela, said McCarthy's performance was the only reason LAFC was still alive in the home-and-home at all.

McCarthy, nominally the backup to Black and Gold No. 1 Maxime Crépeau, was also the hero of last year's MLS Cup after he replaced the injured Crépeau in extra time of MLS Cup and won the ensuing penalty kick shootout. But he still should have kept out Di Yorio's backbreaking strike on Sunday.

LAFC's two-leg loss isn't any one player's fault. There was plenty of blame to go around on that play. LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo opted for a three-man back line featuring center backs Giorgio Chiellini, Aaron Long who aren't the fleetest of foot even when not outnumbered, as they were when the visitors struck.

But the cruel reality is that with his team already trailing on aggregate, McCarthy's made an uncharacteristic error, one that couldn't have come at a worse time. Unfair as it is, it proved to be the fatal one for a club that got so close to yet suddenly feels as far away as ever from achieving its ultimate goal.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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