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Things were looking mighty grim for the LAFC in a Concacaf Champions League match that was wholly dominated by Liga MX team Club Léon in their home stadium. So much so that it is almost miraculous that the Mexican team didn’t score more after going into the half up 2–nil.
“What we were missing all night long was just quality in the final third and the final pass. Our passing was some of the worst I’ve seen all season,” said head coach Steve Cherundolo after the match.
“Credit to Léon, they played excellent in the first half. We didn’t have answers for that. And so just backing up and receding and not defending forward has never been a successful way to defend. It’s never been the way we do things at LAFC and it’s certainly not something we plan on doing in the future, especially Sunday.”
But luck would grace the Black & Gold in the chaotic throes of injury time in the form of a foul on Sergi Palencia that canceled an Osvaldo Rodríguez goal that would’ve put Léon at an unreachable 3–nil lead.
Referee Walter López Castellanos was positioned correctly to catch the infraction and just minutes later, Palencia – no doubt emboldened by the stay of execution – put in a divine cross into Dénis Bouanga’s feet to give the visitors a much-need away goal.
“It was a lifeline,” Cherundolo said afterward. “This team showed a lot of guts to make a couple plays at the end of the game.”
His counterpart, the young Argentine coach Nicolás Larcamón, was happy with his squad’s performance but was critical of the referee’s decisions in the final minutes of the match.
“Taking away those last minutes,” he said. “I am left with very good feelings about what we are capable of doing on Sunday. We are a team that has competed very well every time we leave home, we have established ourselves very well in very difficult stadiums and against great teams, and this will not be the exception.”
Cherundolo is cautious, going into their next match on Sunday, June 4 at home in the BMO, knowing it all hangs on his boys putting 110%.
“I’m very disappointed in our performance tonight,” he said. “That goal does give us a chance, but that goal alone does not help us win a final. The performances of every individual out there, the performance of the group as a group, needs to be much, much improved. I think the scoreline is extremely lucky for us.
“But we are experienced enough, smart enough to bounce back,” Cherundolo said of his squad. “We’re also fit enough to put in a much better performance on Sunday. And this team knows exactly what’s at stake. I am 100% positive LAFC’s performance on Sunday will be much improved, and hopefully good enough to raise a trophy.”
Away goals will not factor as a tiebreaker for the CCL final so LAFC will have to win by two goals or more in regulation as a one goal margin will take them into extra time – and if needed – penalties. Léon would only need a goal or tie to lift the silverware.
“The timing of having a performance like that is obviously poor, but the first half is played,” said Cherundolo. “There’s a whole ‘nother game, and that’s in Los Angeles. And like I said, we expect to bounce back pretty quickly and improve. And we will figure out and show the players what went well tonight, what didn’t go well tonight, and what we need to improve on in order to beat Léon at home.”