Late Leon lapse allows LAFC to head home down just one goal

Leon fans were left frustrated after their team dominated for long stretches of the CCL final but only earned a 2-1 win. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images)
Leon fans were left frustrated after their team dominated for long stretches of the CCL final but only earned a 2-1 win. (Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images) /
Leon LAFC ccl
William Tesillo (left) exults alongside fellow Esmeraldas defender Adonis Frias after putting Leon ahead just 8 minutes into the match. (Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

For 90 minutes, Leon didn’t look like a team that hadn’t played in three-and-a-half weeks. Unfortunately, their Concacaf Champions League finals match went more than 90+6 minutes.

The Esmeraldas walked off the Camp Nou pitch with a slim 2-1 advantage over LAFC and the return match in Los Angeles on Sunday suddenly looks even more perilous.

La Fiera (and fans) will surely feel they wasted too many opportunities. Still, the Esmeraldas did not seem too rusty after the lengthy time off. Leon’s last game came back on April 7, a 3-1 upset loss to Atlético de San Luis in a wildcard match.

But the lack of competition caught up with the Liga MX side late on as tired legs and poor reaction time conspired to concede a late goal on a LAFC fast break late into stoppage time.

Leon eager to avoid repeat of 2020 collapse

Just 8 minutes in, William Tesillo got his head on an Angel Mena corner kick and redirected it inside the far post to give La Fiera a 1-0 lead.

Leon was patient with possession (59% in the first half) but not sharp in the final third. Indecision and over-dribbling in and around the box cost the Esmeraldas several scoring opportunities.

However, just before halftime, a handball inside the box sent Mena to the penalty spot and his conversion made it 2-0.

Despite dropping back a bit more, the home team continued to create looks at goal in the second half, but LAFC goalie John McCarthy refused to give in.

The veteran keeper posted five saves on the night, including two in quick succession in minute 76. If either Joel Campbell or Osvaldo Rodríguez had netted, the silversmith might already be carving “Leon” into the trophy. Even more painful, a point-blank Mena shot was turned away by McCarthy in minute 57.

Then, with time running out, a lost ball in midfield caught the Esmeraldas out of position. Carlos Vela fed Mateusz Bogusz down the right flank and the young Pole zipped a low cross that found Denis Bouanga behind a lagging Iván Moreno at the back post. Bouanga buried the shot and Leon’s solid work suddenly didn’t look so productive.

The return match will be played Sunday night at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles. Leon can hoist its first-ever Concacaf Champions League trophy with a draw or a win while LAFC can claim its first international trophy with a 2-goal victory.

If the teams are tied after 90 minutes (there is no away-goals rule in effect), a 30-minute overtime is played. If the game remains even, the CCL title will be determined by a penalty shootout.

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These two teams met in a 2020 Concachampions quarterfinals series with LAFC moving on (eventually reaching the final where they lost to Tigres). Leon won the first leg at home 2-0 then got trounced in Los Angeles by a 3-0 scoreline (with Vela scoring twice).