Who: Tigres vs LAFC
When: Tuesday, December 22 and 10pm ET
Line: Tigres +145 | Draw +260 | LAFC +165
Only three times has an MLS team made the final of the modern Concacaf Champions League — in 2011 with Real Salt Lake; 2015 with the Montreal Impact, and 2018 with Toronto FC.
None managed to win it.
The tournament presents numerous much-discussed disadvantages for MLS teams, in addition to the mere fact that the top tier of Liga MX remains ahead of the top MLS sides.
As MLS grows, success in the CCL will come. It will increase the league’s reputation and maybe even make it more desirable for potential talent that plays in Mexico or Latin America, players who will go a long way toward nudging the league’s quality toward the levels of Europe, Mexico, and South America. This season, LAFC became the fourth MLS team to make the final. It will face the juggernaut Tigres on Tuesday night.
It is LAFC’s time
LAFC was perhaps destined for this, even though now did not seem like the time that it would come through. They hadn’t played for three weeks, after losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Sounders, when they faced Cruz Azul in a CCL quarterfinal. They’ve dealt with a rollercoaster season, losing top players to injury. While most everyone is healthy again now, some of their top players (including Diego Rossi, Brian Rodriguez, and Eduard Atuesta) are the subject of transfer rumors that could see them leave in a month.
Regardless, LAFC have put together a historic run. They’re the first MLS team to beat three Liga MX sides in a single CCL tournament. Back in February, they stormed back from a 2-0 leg one deficit to beat Club Leon, and since the tournament resumed in December with one-off neutral site games, they have defeated Cruz Azul and Club America, each time staging a comeback.
Rarely have MLS teams acquitted themselves so well in this tournament. Usually, various Concacaf difficulties conspire to knock them out — phantom red cards, tough road matches at altitude, the first rounds taking place during preseason. LAFC faced some of those and persevered. Atuesta was given a bizarre red in their most recent win over Club America, a wild game overall. MLS teams lose those wild games most of the time. LA didn’t.
Can LAFC overcome Tigres?
Tigres will likely be their most difficult opposition yet. Atuesta will apparently remain suspended, despite wishful thinking from MLS fans that his red card would be overturned. LAFC tend to have a hard time against teams that can beat them with skillful counter-attacks. Andre-Pierre Gignac, Tigres’s dominant French forward, has undone many an MLS team in this tournament, including NYCFC just last week. (Tigres beat NYC 4-0 despite NYC shooting 15 times and generally dominating.)
LA will rely on Rossi and Carlos Vela to produce some moments of magic. Without Atuesta, they won’t have their primary midfield ball-mover and creator. It’s a tough task, but LA has overcome adversity in this tournament already, and Vela is good enough to render those obstacles moot.
This run comes a year after LA dominated the MLS regular season, winning the Supporters’ Shield before losing in a classic Western Conference final to the Sounders (who, by the way, carry some stylistic similarities to Tigres). Their legacy, pending the potential sale of core pieces, is secure and likely unfinished. A win over Tigres to give MLS its first in a CCL final would make them legendary.