Larcamón leads León to first Concacaf trophy in franchise history.

Leon celebrates its first-ever Concachampions title in Los Angeles after defeating LAFC Sunday night. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Leon celebrates its first-ever Concachampions title in Los Angeles after defeating LAFC Sunday night. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /
Leon CCL champs
Leon goalie Rodolfo Cota faced only three shots against LAFC, but when called upon, he came with the save, like this one in the first half. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Leon reclaimed regional bragging rights for Liga MX, blanking MLS kings LAFC in Los Angeles to win the franchise’s first-ever Concacaf Champions League crown.

After a shaky start at the BMO Stadium, the Esmeraldas clamped down at the back limiting the high-powered LAFC offense to one shot on goal in the first half.

As La Fiera” held firm at the back – with significant contributions from the double-pivot comprised of Lucas Romero and Fidel Ambriz – the Green Machine started to rev up.

Leon began to flow through midfield though connections in the final third were lacking. Impeccable positioning and team defense prevented LAFC playmakers from getting a sniff at goal.

‘La Fiera’ roars to life

In minute 20, a steal near midfield was directed (by Ambriz) to fullback Iván Moreno all alone down the right flank. He slotted a low cross that found Lucas Di Yorio at the back post, the lanky striker thumping a bouncer that LAFC keeper John McCarthy failed to handle.

Just like that, Leon was up 1-0 and ahead 3-1 on aggregate.

Carlos Vela and Co. did not threaten again until just before halftime, but a low Kellyn Acosta shot skimmed just wide of the far post. Despite enjoying 57% possession, Esmeraldas goalie Rodolfo Cota was not asked any questions.

Nicolás Larcamón’s men tried to slam the door shut in the second half, attacking off the counter when possible with long outlets to Víctor Dávila who bedeviled the LAFC defense all night.

Leon absorbed pressure, kept the MLS giants wide as much as possible and cut out cross after cross. “La Fiera” also put together several lengthy pass sequences that forced LAFC to chase and took the air out of their comeback effort.

With just a quarter-hour remaining, the hosts – needing two goals to force overtime – still only had 1 shot on goal.

In minute 79, left winger Elías Hernández was caught napping and his man walked in alone at the back post but Cota raced off his line and smothered Kwadwo Opoku’s bid to get LAFC back in the game.

As Esmeraldas Nation exhaled nervously, Leon closed out the title effectively, giving up just one more scoring chance through the final whistle (which didn’t come until 90+11’). Oh, and on that scoring chance, Cota was Johnny-on-the-spot, corralling a low header from 12 meters out.

With Leon victory, Liga MX claims 37th Concacaf Cup

Leon earned vintage hardware in coach Larcamón’s first season on the job and it boosted the Liga MX haul to 37 titles since the inaugural confederation-wide club tournament back in 1962.

The Esmeraldas’ triumph also ended Liga MX’s one-year drought. In last year’s Concacaf Champions League final, MLS side Seattle Sounders outplayed UNAM, ending a 16-year streak of Liga MX clubs hoisting the CCL trophy.

This was Leon’s first trip to a Concacaf final, although the Esmeraldas did finish second in 1993 Champions Cup, but that was decided via a round-robin final round. On a lesser scale, two years ago, Angel Mena scored twice to deliver a League’s Cup trophy (3-2 win over Seattle).

dark. Next. City win Manchester derby to claim FA Cup

The 2023 CCL tournament is the last of the current format. Next year, 27 teams will qualify with a play-in series for 11 slots in the Round of 16. The five top-seeded clubs will qualify directly into the Round of 16.