Carlos Vela scored twice for LAFC. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
ORLANDO – Despite playing a man down for a a good portion of thte match, the Los Angeles Football Club advanced to the Concacaf Champions League final after defeating Club América 3-1 in the semifinals Saturday night.
Goals from Carlos Vela (two) and Latif Blessing sealed the come-from-behind victory at Exploria Stadium.
LAFC became the first team in MLS history to eliminate three Mexican clubs in the same edition of the region’s tournament, and the fourth MLS side to reach the championship match since 2011.
Coached by Bob Bradley, LAFC will face Tigres UANL in the final Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET. The winner will advance to the 2020 FIFA Club World Cup, scheduled for in Doha, Qatar. Feb. 1-11.
“Our mentality, after halftime – that intensity in the second half was just awesome,” Bradley said. “We have been trying to develop that kind of mentality and win tough games and get to finals. I think we’ve learned from some of the moments that slipped away from us before, and tonight you could see the concentration in the second half.”
America opened the scoring in the 11th minute when Sebastian Caceres headed home a corner kick at the far post. Moments before the interval, with LAFC pushing for the equalizer, the team was reduced to 10-men after midfielder Eduard Atuesta was given a straight red card for an altercation with América goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
Despite trailing 1-0 and a man down, LAFC quickly changed the momentum of the game as Vela tallied twice in 72 seconds, including the tying goal just 13 seconds into the second half.
“Carlos is such a special player,” Bradley said. “He is a special leader, a captain, and man. What a night for him.
“He has missed a lot of time this year,” Bradley said. “You can tell that at the end of the year how much [Champions League] means to him, and when it comes across to other players like that – that is leadership.”
Deep into stoppage time, LAFC added a third as Latif Blessing knocked home a rebound after Diego Rossi’s attempt was initially blocked by Ochoa, securing the victory.
The teams finished at 10 men apiece after Club America midfielder Luis Reyes was awarded red card in the 79th minute. He fouled Diego Rossi in the corner with his studs showing.
LAFC, which is still seeking its first major trophy is only one win away from making history.
“We’ve been close, and in some of the important games we’ve made some mistakes,” Bradley said. “We know what it feels like, semifinals are the game where everybody feels the pressure because getting to a final is so special. The whole idea of our group was to come together and get to a final, that is how you grow as a Club. We are in our third season and we know we have to keep trying to get better and develop that mentality.”