Tigres UANL and LAFC advanced to the final of the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League after tonight’s semifinals at Exploria Stadium. Tigres ousted CD Olimpia 3-0 in the early match and Club América was sent packing in the nightcap as LAFC came from a goal down while down to 10 men to win the chippiest match here so far, 3-1.
Here’s how the semifinals unfolded:
Tigres UANL 3-0 CD Olimpia
Tigres out of Mexico’s Liga MX took on Honduran side CD Olimpia in the first semifinal. Tigres entered fresh off destroying New York City FC in the quarterfinals, while Olimpia lost the second-leg match to the Montreal Impact, 1-0, but won on the away goals tiebreaker after the two legs ended in a 2-2 aggregate score line.
The Honduran side seemed content to absorb pressure from Tigres, stay organized, and look for opportunities in transition. Leonardo Fernandez saw his long-range effort parried away by goalkeeper Edrick Menjivar in the seventh minute and Andre-Pierre Gignac’s curling free kick sailed just wide two minutes later as Tigres probed for an opening goal. Gignac sent a free kick right at Menjivar in the 24th minute. The first shot from Olimpia that was notable came in the 45th minute from Edwin Rodriguez but it was well wide of goal. If Olimpia had one before that, I didn’t notice it. The plodding first half was played almost entirely in Olimpia’s half but without Tigres threatening the goal much.
Business picked up at the end of the half when Tigres got a late corner kick. The bouncing ball fell for Tigres center back Carlos Salcedo’s bicycle kick attempt, which was blocked, but made it only as far as Luis Quiñones, who fired it back toward goal. Olimpia midfielder Deybi Flores stuck out an arm to keep the ball from crossing the goal line and referee Ivan Barton awarded a penalty and sent Flores off for an intentional handball. Gignac scored from the spot on just about the last kick of the opening half to give Tigres the lead at the break and the Hondurans were a man down for the rest of the match.
Tigres led in shots (8-1) and shots on target (7-0), as well as corner kicks (3-0), possession (74%-26%) and passing accuracy (88%-86%) at the break.
Gignac missed a good opportunity to double the Tigres lead five minutes after the restart. His cross into the area was knocked away from its intended target but Gignac continued his run and got to the ball first, firing left of goal from near the penalty spot, wasting a good scoring chance. However, the Frenchman still doubled the lead just moments after Jerry Bengtson got in alone for Olimpia and flubbed his shot in an attempt to tie the game.
Tigres came down to the other end after Bengtson’s muffed shot was saved by Nahuel Guzman and Jorge Alvarez committed Olimpia’s second handball in the box on the night. Gignac sent Menjivar the wrong way and slotted home to make it 2-0 Tigres in the 57th minute.
If the game wasn’t already out of reach, an own goal off the head of Elvin Casildo off a ball from Gignac in the 78th minute certainly finished off Olimpia.
Things would have gotten worse for the Honduran side if not for two outstanding set piece saves by Menjivar in the final 15 minutes — first on a header by Hugo Ayala and then another by Salcedo.
Olimpia tried to take something from the game late with a couple of scoring opportunities, but Jorge Alvarez sent a free kick over the bar in the 83rd minute and Eddie Hernandez had his shot deflected out by the defense at the death.
Tigres led at the final whistle in shots (16-4), shots on target (13-2), corners (5-1), possession (74%-26%), and passing accuracy (92%-88%).
LAFC 3-1 Club América
LAFC was on the front foot right away in the second game, buzzing around the América penalty area but not getting an open look at goal. The Liga MX team started coming into the game after a few minutes, and Leo Suarez got the first look for América in the eighth minute, cutting in from the right and firing a left-footed shot that Kenneth Vermeer smothered.
It was América that broke through first, scoring in the 11th minute on its first corner kick of the game. Richard Sanchez delivered a terrific cross on the set piece and Sebastian Caceres flicked a header at the near post that tucked just inside the far post to make it 1-0 to the Mexican side.
Jose Cifuentes headed over the bar off a nice cross from Diego Palacios in the 24th minute on one of the rare instances the MLS side was able to get a look in a decent scoring area. Carlos Vela had a go from distance in the 37th minute but Memo Ochoa was able to make a comfortable save.
LAFC’s best chance of the half came in the 40th off a set piece, when the ball pinged around in traffic and fell for Eddie Segura, who fired a shot through traffic that Ochoa stopped.
The end of the half was a wild one. Eduard Atuesta went down after some contact in the area on an LAFC set piece. No foul was called and Atuesta stayed down for a while as the ball was cleared away. Ochoa came and got into Atuesta’s face and the LAFC midfielder lunged at the América goalkeeper, who went down as if he’d been shot. The teams came together with lots of pushing and shoving and eventually referee Juan Gabriel Calderon showed a straight red to Atuesta. So, both matches involved a red card in first-half stoppage time.
There was more pushing and shoving after the final whistle as play ended near the LAFC bench and tempers flared again and Club América manager Miguel Herrera was tossed from the game. His team took its 1-0 lead into the locker room.
LAFC led in shots (6-5), shots on goal (5-3), and possession (62%-38%), while Club América had more corners (3-1) and a higher passing rate (86%-82%).
Despite LAFC being down a man, Carlos Vela turned the game on its head inside the first two minutes of the second half. Just seconds after the restart, Vela picked off a terrible pass from Caceres at the top of the area and beat Ochoa inside the far post to make it 1-1 in the 46th minute.
Just one minute later, Segura sent a long ball over the top from his own end that fell perfectly for Vela to run onto and the LAFC Designated Player beat Ochoa on a similar left-footed shot to make it 2-1.
“Carlos is such a special player, special leader, captain, and man what a night for him,” LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said after the game. “There’s so many things that Carlos brings to our team, so, you know, we’re lucky to have him around and you can tell he’s really committed right now.”
No longer able to sit back and protect the lead, América went back on the attack immediately, looking to equalize. A shot missed just wide of the goal after being deflected by a defender and Vermeer watched helplessly as the ball skipped wide. Moments later, Suarez sent a shot just wide and high of the target. Suarez got another decent look in the 67th minute but sent his effort into the outside netting.
Ten minutes later, Luis Reyes had a chance to level things with a free kick that he smashed through traffic but it hit Vermeer, who made a save that I’m not sure he knew too much about. If he’d hit that anywhere else on frame it likely would have gone in.
Reyes was sent off moments later after a horror tackle in his own defensive end near the corner in the 79th minute. América lost its manpower advantage and the sides were even with 10 men apiece.
The Mexican side couldn’t muster more than a half chance and a few set pieces after that and the MLS team advanced to the final match. Second-half sub Latif Blessing put the finishing touches on the match with a goal on just about the last kick of the game.
América had more shots (13-11) but LAFC got more on target (10-8). The Liga MX side led in corners (6-4) and passing accuracy (91%-78%), while possession was split 50/50. Most importantly, LAFC had the larger number on the scoreboard and advanced despite playing down a man for 34 minutes.
LAFC became just the fourth MLS side in the modern era to reach the final and the first to eliminate three Liga MX sides in one Concacaf Champions League season.
“Amazing effort by the guys,” Bradley said. “At halftime we thought that we would still win the game. Just a team effort where commitment and intensity was just awesome.”
Tigres UANL and LAFC will meet in the final on Tuesday night at 10 p.m. as the competition comes to a close at Exploria Stadium.