Los Angeles FC eye Champions League crown in Leon clash

Los Angeles FC will attempt to become only the third Major League Soccer team to win CONCACAF’s top club competition when they face Mexican side Leon in the first leg of the Champions League final on Wednesday.

A year after the Seattle Sounders ended more than two decades of futility by MLS teams, LAFC are on the threshold of claiming the biggest title of the club’s relatively brief history.

Los Angeles, who only began life in the MLS as an expansion side in the 2018 season, head into Wednesday’s first leg at the Estadio Leon as marginal favorites after an impressive march through the knockout rounds.

The reigning MLS champions also go into the game on the back of a successful start to the domestic season which has left them just one point off top of the Western Conference standings but with three games in hand over league leaders Seattle.

Leon by contrast may well be suffering from a lack of match sharpness.

The Mexican side have not played since a May 7 defeat to San Luis in the Liga-MX.

Los Angeles also have the advantage of playing the second leg of the final at home next Sunday, leaving them with the tantalising possibility of lifting the title in front of their raucous home fans at the BMO Stadium.

“We know about our strengths at home,” LAFC midfielder Timothy Tillman said.

“We’re really good at home, we feel comfortable at home and we just want to have a good result over there.

“With a good result in the bag, we’ll go back home and have a good second leg.”

Los Angeles are unbeaten away from home in the Champions League this season, with impressive away victories over Alajuelense and the Vancouver Whitecaps followed by a 1-1 draw at Philadelphia in the semi-finals.

– Top scorer –

In France-born Gabon international Denis Bouanga they have the tournament’s top scorer with six goals and four assists in six games.

Bouanga is happy to kick off with the first leg of the final in Mexico.

“It’s the perfect competition to start the first leg away,” said Bouanga.

“If we are lucky enough and finish and win in front of our supporters, it would be the best gift we can give to them.

“If we play the way we’ve been doing so far, I really think we can win the Cup.”

Seattle are the only MLS club to win the tournament since the CONCACAF Champions League’s modern format was introduced in the 2008-2009 season.

Prior to that, the Los Angeles Galaxy were the only continental champions from MLS with their win in the old CONCACAF Champions Cup in 2000.

LAFC came agonisingly close to a maiden title in 2020, but lost in the final to Mexican side Tigres in a game played behind closed doors on neutral soil in Orlando, Florida.

Los Angeles captain Carlos Vela says that result three years ago “doesn’t matter”, noting that the team has changed playing and coaching personnel since that loss.

“I think the most important thing is to go there, play with confidence with the right mentality to get a good result,” Vela said.

“And of course, thinking we have another game. We have to be smart in that situation and don’t make small mistakes that can cost a lot.”

The winner of this year’s final will also secure a long-term prize, securing automatic qualification to FIFA’s 32-team Club World Cup in 2025, which is strongly tipped to be staged in the United States.


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