Los Angeles Football Club did, no, not the impossible, but the improbable on Thursday, coming back from a not-at-all-insurmountable 2-0 deficit in the first leg of their Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 series against Liga MX side Club León to win 3-0 at Banc of California Stadium in the second leg, winning the series on a 3-2 aggregate score.
It was tense, it was frustrating, but it was ultimately thrilling, as LAFC made history in their first run in the CCL to ensure they will make an actual run this year. With that, let’s jump right in with three thoughts from an unforgettable night.
Superstars lead the way
Carlos Vela is the marquee name for LAFC, literally, and he showed why on Thursday, with the game’s first two goals to tie up the series. Vela’s goals weren’t of his audacious variety — the Mexican metaphorically rolled up his sleeves and got down and dirty to get those goals in, and he grinded his way into getting them.
With that, the second superstar on LAFC, Diego Rossi, did what he does — score that timely goal for the black-and-gold, his chip from a wide angle nestling in off the far post and floating over the line to win the series with just over 10 minutes to play.
This is what superstars do, carry their team, and while we all know what Vela does, it’s time we start putting Rossi in that pantheon. He’s not on Vela’s level yet, but the Uruguayan has shown over 2+ seasons that he is the man and can shoulder the burden when his team absolutely needs him. Obviously without Vela and Rossi, this win does not happen.
Turning the tables on León
Coming out of the first leg, León weren’t actually totally overpowering in that game, but LAFC looked truly woeful. Their first competitive game of the year, LAFC didn’t register a shot on target, and León really only needed a few chances, while they controlled the run of play at a canter, to easily defeat LAFC.
This time, in the second leg LAFC were the dominant force and León were left to eat on scraps. We knew LAFC would have to go for it based on the game state, but just how good they looked and how poor León was in this game was a surprise, especially with both teams fielding virtually identical lineups in the two legs. This time, LAFC had seven shots on target to none for León, this time LAFC were dictating play and León were forced to effectively defend under siege for 90 minutes. Somehow, it worked, and León looked like a shadow of the team from last week, likely the most stunned people in The Banc based on how the game went.
I thought Francisco Ginella was probably LAFC’s best player last week, but he made way for Eduard Atuesta in this game, and it was the right call.
Mark-Anthony Kaye is still working up to fitness, that is clear, but he was more commanding and somewhat more composed on the night (has to be said the referee, who didn’t have a great night, gave LAFC an enormous favor by not sending Kaye off in the first half on a second yellow card). Latif Blessing was substantially better than in the first leg. But Atuesta is the key player in midfield, and his performance was great for him and the team after missing the first leg with an injury.
Atuesta is himself a star in the making — I maintain he’ll be sold to a team in Spain or Italy probably within the next 12 months, so enjoy it while you can. He’s also a player whose main flaw so far is that he tends to lose his head and inexplicably do the opposite of the things he’s so good at in high-pressure games — he’s done it in the playoffs for LAFC and he got throttled by Colombia fans after his last game playing with the U-23s in South American Olympic qualifying recently. But on this night, with his team in a hole, he came back and put together a steady performance to set the tone for LAFC. He nearly scored a goal himself.
The main concern? He was shown on the TV broadcast grabbing his hamstring ever so slightly as he was subbed out of the game. The same knock that kept him out last week and wanting to be smart in recovery, or a new ailment? Let’s hope it’s the former and it isn’t serious, because Atuesta’s quality was immense in this game and he’s still a vital player for LAFC.
What do you think? What stood out to you in the victory? Let’s chat in the comments below!