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Concacaf Champions League Final: Tigres Comes from Behind to Beat LAFC 2-1

The Liga MX side won its first Champions League title in four attempts by beating LAFC at its own game of falling behind and coming back.

Soccer: 2020 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League - Final Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

LAFC had been living by the comeback throughout the 2020 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League but eventually died by it. Tigres UANL won its first CCL final in four attempts by scoring twice to erase a 1-0 deficit and win 2-1 at Exploria Stadium. Hugo Ayala and André-Pierre Gignac scored 12 minutes apart to turn the game around after Diego Rossi had given LAFC a 1-0 lead in the second half.

With LAFC’s loss, MLS clubs are now 0-4 in CCL finals.

“It’s hard to get the thoughts, immediately. We’re very disappointed,” LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said after the match. “Our team is growing, you know we we played some really good football in some of these games. I thought our way of going after the game tonight was was real good — some moments not our sharpest but still the mentality to play in a final and push the game. That’s important. So, we end in a really disappointing way.”

The match began with absolutely no flow to it at all. The teams combined for 26 fouls, with the teams distributing them evenly at 13 apiece. Yet somehow no one got booked for persistent infringement. Carlos Vela of LAFC was fouled five times and Jesus Dueñas of Tigres was whistled for four in the opening half and didn’t see a card. Honestly, some of the calls were extremely soft, as if someone at Concacaf had givin explicit instructions to referee Mario Escobar not to have a repeat of the second semifinal match Saturday night, which descended into chaos for non-calls.

Despite all the fouls that were called, the big talking point from the opening half was one that wasn’t. Latif Blessing went down in the area. It looked like a foul from one angle and from the other there doesn’t appear to be that much contact, but the bigger question I have is how defender Luis Rodriguez missed the ball.

Neither team got too good of a look in the first half as a result of all the stops and starts. Rossi had a couple of opportunities, nearly beating Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman to a loose ball in the six at the 23-minute mark. Rossi then sent a shot over the bar from just outside the box a few minutes later.

Vela sent a free kick just wide of the near post from the left side in the 34th minute.

LAFC kept its shape well defensively in the opening period and Tigres couldn’t connect the last pass when coming forward in transition.

LAFC led in shots (4-2) but Tigres had more shots on goal (1-0, so it isn’t saying much). LAFC had more corners (2-1). Tigres had more possession (56.2%-43.8%) and was more accurate in passing (81%-78%).

The rate of fouling slowed in the second half, but the teams still committed 40 total fouls in the match (23 by LAFC and 17 by Tigres) without a single card being shown. Two players committed five fouls and three players suffered five without anyone being booked. Bradley lamented the five fouls suffered by Vela in his postgame comments, but LAFC fouled Leo Fernandez and Rafael Carioca of Tigres were also fouled five times. It was clear that Escobar wasn’t going to reach into his pocket. Perhaps he forgot to bring his cards with him.

The game started opening up in the second half with LAFC in particular finding more space. Vela shook free on the right side in the 55th minute and sent a chip shot toward goal but it was just off target. Second-half sub Kwadwo Opoku took a pass in the center of the box a minute later and fired a dangerous shot that skipped off Dueñas and wide of the post for a corner.

Five minutes later, LAFC found a breakthrough. Mark-Anthony Kaye sent an excellent pass from the left side. Rossi took it on the bounce with a soft chip shot that found the inside of the back post to make it 1-0 in the 61st minute.

Gignac should have tied the game in the 63rd minute. LAFC goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer got caught out of goal and the ball found Gignac in the box, but his shot hit a defender and LAFC cleared.

On the other end, Vela then should have made it 2-0 in the 65th minute, but he took too much time on the ball from just left of the penalty spot and Rodriguez got over to make a sliding block to keep it a one-goal game. That ended up being a huge block as it turned out.

Tigres pressed to try to get the goal back and that pressure forced an errant clearance by Vermeer that went over his own end line for a corner kick. It was a costly mistake. Second-half sub Nicolas Lopez sent in the cross from the corner flag and Ayala flicked a header toward the back post and in to make it 1-1 in the 72nd minute.

“A misunderstanding between Kenneth Vermeer and Eddie Segura leads to a corner,” Bradley said. “We just don’t do well in the front zone and then Mark Anthony Kaye has a chance in the back to maybe clear it.”

Four minutes later, Lopez sent in another outstanding cross on another corner kick and Francisco Meza had a free header but he smashed it wide of the right post.

Tigres broke the 1-1 deadlock in the 84th minute. The Mexican side did well to switch play from left to right through traffic to Rodriguez, who dribbled up the field and cut right to left through three defenders before crossing. Gignac ran onto the pass and tucked it inside the right post to make it 2-1.

“You could tell at that point now we start to get a little bit more careless, a little slower to close things down. And we have so many guys back in position but we just don’t do a good enough job,” Bradley said. “Rodriguez gets through and Gignac is a smart player so he’s just waiting for the moment and then the ball gets rolled across and it’s an excellent finish.”

LAFC threw numbers forward in the final minutes but didn’t create a good final chance to level the game. After a seemingly insufficient three minutes of stoppage time, the game was over and Tigres had its first CCL title. The championship also comes with a nice financial benefit as well as a spot in the FIFA Club World Cup.

Tigres led in shots (11-10), shots on target (5-1), possession (54.3%-45.7%), and passing accuracy (80%-76%), with each team earning four corners.

And that’s it for the tournament. It was nice to see it come to Orlando, but the circumstances by which that happened leave a lot to be desired. Let’s hope it returns in the near future because Orlando City is in the competition.