Los Angeles Football Club had an opportunity in the 2020 Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal against Cruz Azul, and they took advantage of it, beating the Liga MX outfit 2-1 Wednesday at Exploria Stadium, to advance in the competition.
After a pretty even first half that featured an understandably rusty LAFC, the black-and-gold really pulled ahead in the second half, and while they couldn’t put the game out of hand early like they like to do, they beat their second straight Mexican opponent in CCL to reach the semifinals in their first time in the competition.
Bob Bradley went with a first-choice lineup overall, the only possible exceptions being Danny Musovski starting in place of Brian Rodriguez in the forward line, Jose Cifuentes pushing Latif Blessing to the bench, and Kenneth Vermeer starting in goal. Cruz Azul were missing both goalkeeper Jesus Corona and top scorer Jonathan Rodriguez.
Cruz Azul looked to have gone ahead in the 5th minute, with a headed goal from Luis Romo off a free kick, but the goal was chalked off due to offside, so the game stayed 0-0.
LAFC had a good buildup in the 9th minute, with a counterattack that led to a shot that clanged off the crossbar by Diego Rossi.
In the 14th minute, Cruz Azul won the ball from Eddie Segura after a poor pass from Mark-Anthony Kaye just in front of LAFC’s box, and Segura compounded the error with a timely push in the back on Orbelin Pineda. Yoshi Yotun stepped up and converted the penalty to give La Maquina a 1-0 lead.
LAFC got a penalty of their own in the 36th minute, with Carlos Vela taking matters into his own hands and drawing the spot kick on Cruz Azul goalkeeper Sebastian Jurado, and then stepping up to score it himself, to tie up the game.
The first half ended 1-1, and was a pretty even half for the teams, leaving it wide open for the second half.
Rossi forced a save from Jurado in the opening minutes of the second half, and both teams traded possession as they sought dominance in the game.
Bradley’s first substitute was a bit surprising, as Mahalo Opoku replaced Musovski in the 58th minute. Musovski struggled to really make an imprint on the game, but going with Opoku ahead of Rodriguez was a surprise.
Just after the hour mark, Tristan Blackmon went down in Cruz Azul’s box on an LAFC corner kick, landing very awkwardly on one leg after jumping high. He was attended by the medical staff, but fortunately was able to carry on in the game.
Bradley’s decision to go with Opoku was rewarded, as the rookie scored his first career pro goal in the 71st minute, with a nifty finish on the side volley from distance.
The lead was deserved, as LAFC had piled on pressure around the hour mark and had started to exert some real control on the run of play, with several close calls before the second goal.
Of course, from there, Cruz Azul took the initiative to try and get back into the game, and it was a nervy final stretch for the black-and-gold.
Rodriguez and Blessing entered the game in the 79th minute, for Cifuentes and Rossi. Mohamed El-Munir then entered for Blackmon in the 88th minute.
It was a bit nervy, to be sure, but LAFC did deserve the win on balance of the dominant stretch they enjoyed in the second half. I think Vela showed his quality once again, with Rossi very quiet on the night they got a huge goal from an unlikely source in Opoku, and the defense did very well on the night. Yes, Cruz Azul were missing a permanent manager and some of their key players, but you can only play the team in front of you. And on that basis, this win was no fluke for LAFC.
Their next test is going to be much tougher, however. They’ll face another Liga MX side, Club América in the CCL semifinal on Saturday at Exploria Stadium. América are unlikely to enter the game as hobbled as Cruz Azul, but hey, LAFC have beaten Liga MX opposition twice, and in a 90-minute match, who knows what can happen, right? They’ll need to be at their best if they want to reach the final.
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