LAFC withdraw one late to set up a thrilling Champions League final

Denis Bouunga’s stoppage-time goal kept LAFC’s dreams alive on Wednesday as last year’s MLS Cup winners clinched their second consecutive Major League Soccer team CONCACAF Champions League title despite conceding their opening game of the season. The LigaMX club dropped their home-and-away aggregate goals series 2–1 to Leon.

Here are three quick takeaways after Wednesday’s dramatic opener:

LAFC riding on its luck after nightmare start

Make no mistake: With the decisive second leg at home on Sunday (9pm ET, FS1), LAFC would have been thrilled to leave Mexico with a tie. For the partisan home crowd, Lyon’s dangerous onslaught had already been stopped. “We have to be smart,” LAFC captain Carlos Vela said before a charter jump south of the border by MLS representatives earlier this week.

The plan backfired when Lyon’s William Tesillo headed past goalkeeper John McCarthy less than eight minutes later:

The teams had exchanged good chances before that, with McCarthy pulling off a fine finger save to keep the score level, but the hosts were, as expected, clearly offensive.

After taking the lead, Lyon only came harder. LAFC were clearly shaken, but thanks to emergency defense and some near misses from the hosts. When the visitors won possession, which did not happen often, they undermined the sweet cohesion they had shown throughout the tournament. The last pass just wasn’t there, and sure enough, Lyon made it 2-0 from the penalty spot before the end of the first half:

The second half went a bit better for LAFC. However, he still had not conceded a goal in the 90th minute. At the time, they considered themselves lucky to be 2–0 down on aggregate. Instead, Baunga’s late attack gave the LAFC a real opportunity. Instead of needing a miracle after a generally weak opener, a convincing win is now all Steve Cherundolo’s team needs to somehow clinch the regional crown.

Leon could not deliver the fatal blow

There is no doubt that the home team was better from start to finish. Lyon was outstanding in every statistical category. Except one. A 2-1 score makes it look close and it wasn’t. The hosts had indeed scored a fierce third goal, well deserved before Boanga’s 95th-minute stunner only had it neutralized by an error spotted in the run-up.

The fact remains that Lyon should have dealt the fatal blow on Wednesday. As much McCarthy stood on his head To keep their team in this, the host team also missed many golden opportunities. Bury one or two and Bonga’s attack might not even happen. Lyon might have had a huge advantage in Sunday’s rematch. Instead, the Black and Gold know that an early goal in front of their own supporters will balance things out and push them back into trophy fight.

LAFC must be better to take the title

As good as Wednesday’s result was for LAFC, LAFC will need an even better performance on Sunday as Lyon takes advantage of the opening they left.

Cherundolo’s best players should be their best when the series resumes at the BMO Stadium in Los Angeles. Bounga entered Wednesday’s game as the top scorer in both MLS and the Champions League, but he was hardly a threat in the opening 90 minutes. Vela, the former Mexico World Cup star and LAFC’s undisputed headliner, was tightly marked and made practically invisible. The visitors had only two modest shots on target before Bounga took his chance against both the odds and a turn of events.

This was without a doubt an LAFC dud. But finding ways to get more than you deserve is the mark of a champion. Psychologically, it was not a loss for the visitors. In fact, that was still the case, so whatever the glimmer of hope, it won’t matter at all as long as Cherundolo can get the best out of his players for the all-important rematch. The Lyons still have the overall lead and are unlikely to give LAFC another lifeline.

Doug McIntyre is a football writer for Fox Sports. Prior to joining Fox Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer at ESPN and Yahoo Sports and has covered the United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @by Doug McIntyre,

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