Club América out of Mexico and Major League Soccer’s LAFC advanced to Saturday’s semifinals on the second night of Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals at Exploria Stadium after dispatching Atlanta United and Cruz Azul, respectively.
Atlanta United looked to erase a 3-0 aggregate score line in the opening match against Liga MX side Club América, while LAFC and Mexican side Cruz Azul met in a single-leg quarterfinal match in the nightcap.
The Five Stripes could only eke out a 1-0 win in the early match to fall 3-1 on aggregate. LAFC then came from behind to beat Cruz Azul 2-1 in the nightcap to keep MLS hopes alive in the competition.
Atlanta United 1-0 (1-3 agg.) Club América
Atlanta United looked to erase a 3-0 aggregate score line in the opening match against Liga MX side Club América but could only inch closer by a single goal in a 1-0 win.
The teams played a scoreless but often chippy first half, with a lot of early fouls, although the game calmed down a bit after the opening quarter of an hour. América fashioned the first good chance off a free kick in the ninth minute, when Richard Sanchez fizzed a shot just over the crossbar.
Ezequiel Barco, who was active in the opening period, sent Franco Escobar down the right with a no-look pass in the 15th minute but Memo Ochoa made a good save diving to his right to keep the game scoreless. Barco got into a good position in the area in the 23rd minute, stabbing a shot toward goal but right at Ochoa.
América wasted a 4-v-3 break in the 34th minute, running out of ideas at the end. Eventually, Sebastian Cordova sent a shot right at Brad Guzan was no trouble for the veteran goalkeeper.
The half plodded to a scoreless finish, with each team firing three shots, although Atlanta got more on frame (3-1). Each team committed seven fouls, but Atlanta’s Eric Remedi was the only player booked. Atlanta United held more of the possession (66.1%-33.9%), which is expected since the Five Stripes were chasing a 3-0 aggregate deficit, and had an advantage in passing accuracy (90%-81%).
The teams came out plodding to start the second half, with the first shot coming in the 52nd minute when Barco sent a shot over the bar from outside the area. Nine minutes later, Leonardo Suarez sent a curling free kick just off target at the other end.
George Bello got in down the left in the 69th minute and started Atlanta’s best sequence of the night to that point. Bello crossed for second-half sub Cubo Torres who fired a shot that Ochoa stopped. Torres got to the rebound first and again Ochoa made the stop. The ball was cleared to the top of the area and the América defense blocked a shot at about the penalty spot.
Antonio Lopez fired wide for América in the 77th minute, as the Mexican side continued to waste its opportunities.
Atlanta finally broke the scoreless deadlock in the 82nd minute. Bello crossed in from the left and found Homegrown forward Jackson Conway, who had subbed on just minutes earlier. Conway smashed his header past Ochoa and the 19-year-old had a goal on his debut. It cut the aggregate score to 3-1 but far too late for Atlanta to mount any kind of comeback.
“Fantastic, composed finish,” said Atlanta interim manager Stephen Glass of Conway’s goal.
The game took an ugly turn at the end of normal time when América’s Santiago Naveda made an awful tackle from behind on Marcelino Moreno, who then lashed out with a kick in retaliation. Naveda was booked for his infraction and Moreno was sent off. Glass said he didn’t see Moreno’s kick but understood from others that it was a red card, but also felt Naveda’s tackle — which he did see — should also have been a red.
That was about it for the Five Stripes, who finished a man and two goals down, despite winning this individual leg. Atlanta United led in shots (10-9), shots on goal (7-1), corners (5-3), possession (63.3%-36.7%), and passing accuracy (88%-80%).
But it was an ugly and often boring affair with 32 fouls (18 for América and 14 for Atlanta), and referee Ismael Cornejo did the match no favors by allowing so much on the pitch. Despite the 32 fouls, there were only three cautions and the straight red to Moreno for violent conduct. Cordova alone committed five fouls but saw no yellow card for América.
“They played better tonight than they have,” Glass said of his Five Stripes. “The players showed what they’re capable of tonight.”
LAFC 2-1 Cruz Azul
LAFC and Mexican side Cruz Azul met in a single-leg quarterfinal match in the nightcap, as they didn’t get to play the first leg due to the pandemic shutdown. With no first leg result for either team to sit on, the match seemed like it would be the most exciting of the four quarterfinals at Exploria Stadium and it did live up to that billing.
Former Orlando City midfielder Yoshimar Yotún started at Exploria Stadium for the first time since leaving the Lions after the 2018 season, when OCSC sold him for $4 million to Cruz Azul. He was later joined on the pitch by another former Lion, LAFC’s Mohamed El-Munir, who came on late to help see out the win for Bob Bradley’s side.
Each team came close early on. Luis Romo headed a free kick service into the net in the fifth minute but the offside flag nullified it. Four minutes later, Diego Rossi smashed a shot off the crossbar at the other end.
A bad turnover by Cruz Azul in the defensive end gave Danny Musovski an opportunity in the 10th minute but his shot was partially blocked and skipped out for a corner.
After those early near misses, it was Yotún who opened the scoring in his old house. Orbelin Pineda picked up the ball after a terrible giveaway by LAFC at the back and took the ball in on goal, where he was fouled by Eddie Segura, setting up a penalty. Yotún lined up the spot kick and abused goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer with a soft chip just under the crossbar as the LAFC keeper dove to stop a hard shot that never came. Cruz Azul led 1-0 in the 15th minute.
Carlos Vela sent Mark-Anthony Kaye down the right in the 33rd minute but his shot was blocked as the first half remained wide open. Moments later, Vela got in behind and was fouled by goalkeeper Sebastian Jurado in the area, giving LAFC a penalty of its own. Vela stepped up and beat Jurado, who guessed correctly but couldn’t stop the striker’s shot and the match was tied at 1-1 in the 38th minute.
PENALTY for LAFC. Carlos Vela is brought down in the box as he was close to getting an open look at goal. He steps to the spot and just squeezes it into the bottom corner. All level now.— Last Word on Soccer (@LastWordSC) December 17, 2020
1-1 | #SCCL2020 pic.twitter.com/abBY8bNRBH
Cruz Azul nearly regained the lead two minutes later. Roberto Alvarado busted down the left hand side but sliced his shot wide of the far post. Vela then forced a diving save from Jurado in the 45th minute in the last decent chance of the opening period. The teams went to the break tied at 1-1.
LAFC led in shots (9-3), shots on goal (4-1), and corners won (4-0), while Cruz Azul held slight advantages in possession (52.4%-47.6%) and passing accuracy (78%-75%).
After the break, Rossi nearly found the net in the 52nd minute from the left side, fizzing a shot toward the back post but Jurado made a diving save. But LAFC started to get more and more of a grip on the game throughout a tighter (and sloppier) second half. The MLS side continuously won set pieces and finally paid one of them off in the 70th minute.
Vela crossed in from the corner flag and the ball got through the traffic and came out the other side of the box, where second-half sub Kwadwo Opoku smashed it inside the far post from right to left to make it 2-1. Opoku became the second 19-year-old for an MLS side to score a goal on the night, joining Conway from the early match.
Cruz Azul fullback Juan Escobar tried a long-range effort moments later but sailed his shot well over the bar. La Máquina dedicated more numbers into the attack but couldn’t find any clear path through the LAFC defense.
LAFC finished with more shots (15-7), shots on goal (7-1), and corners (9-1), while Cruz Azul had the advantage in possession (55.8%-44.2%) and passing accuracy (78%-73%).
“Really proud of our team tonight,” LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said after the match. “There was a real resolve that we could get back in the game. A lot of guys stepped up in a big way.”
Club América will face LAFC in the late semifinal at Exploria Stadium on Saturday. The earlier semifinal will feature CD Olimpia (Honduras) against Tigres UANL (Mexico).