March 31, 2023
LAFC loses to Alajuelense but advances in the CONCACAF Champions League

LAFC loses to Alajuelense but advances in the CONCACAF Champions League

LAFC’s Jose Cifuentes (20) is defended by Alajuelense’s Yael Lopez during the second half of a CONCACAF Champions League match on Wednesday at BMO Stadium. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

It’s better to be lucky than good. But what if you can be both?

There is no doubt that LAFC is good. The team won everything there was to win in MLS last season, then opened this season with three straight wins scoring 10 times.

Now good fortune seems to be smiling on the team as well, with LAFC advancing to the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals despite Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Costa Rican club Alajuelense at BMO Stadium.

The CCL is played in two-game home-and-away series, with the combined score determining the winner. LAFC won the first leg 3-0 last week in Costa Rica, so Wednesday’s one-goal loss wasn’t enough to stop them from advancing as they won 4-2 on aggregate.

“We’re happy to be here for another competition, which was the goal,” LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo said.

And LAFC’s good fortune could follow it into next month’s quarterfinals, where the team will take on the Vancouver Whitecaps. Vancouver has had a winning season in MLS since 2017, while LAFC has been the most successful team in the league during that span.

Additionally, only one of the four remaining teams on the LAFC side of the draw hails from Mexico, while as many as three of the four finalists on the other side could hail from Liga MX, depending on Thursday’s results. Avoiding Mexican teams is key to making a deep run in the CCL, the region’s most prestigious club tournament, as Liga MX claimed 16 straight titles before the Seattle Sounders won last year’s competition.

“It’s the quarterfinals of the Champions League. Every matchup should be difficult,” Cherundolo said. “We like our chances.”

First they had to get past Alajuelense, who needed a big win to stay alive. And the Costa Ricans came out strong, taking the lead in the eighth minute on a penalty kick from former Galaxy defender Giancarlo González. The score was set when a lengthy video review ended with LAFC’s Giorgio Chiellini being penalized for a hand ball in the box.

The deficit was the first that LAFC, playing for the fourth time in 11 days, has faced this season. Defender Aaron Long nearly erased it in the 15th minute when he headed a corner kick off the crossbar, and LAFC was denied again just before halftime when Alajuelense goalkeeper Lionel Moreira made a spectacular save on a point-blank attempt by Stipe. Biuk, one of 26. LAFC shots at night.

That allowed Alajuelense’s Aaron Suárez to double the lead seven minutes into the second half when he picked up a rebound over LAFC goalkeeper John McCarthy, bringing Alajuelense within one LAFC goal on aggregate. Another spectacular save from Moreira six minutes later, this time a one-handed deflection of a Carlos Vela header, kept the score 2-0.

Vela fired a left-footed shot in the 83rd minute for his second goal of the year.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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