Preview — The MLS regular season may have come to a close — congratulations to the Columbus Crew — but there is still more soccer in 2020 for LAFC. Nine months after the pandemic forced a halt to everything, the Concacaf Champions League is set to resume.
On Wednesday, LAFC will face off against Cruz Azul in their long-awaited quarterfinal match. While the season didn’t go the the way LAFC had hoped, the black and gold have another chance for silverware.
LAFC vs. Cruz Azul: Teams Travel to Orlando for Conclusion of CCL in Bubble
With this being an international tournament, with many moving parts, the decision was made to return to Orlando. While this will be a first for the teams that play in Liga MX, this is nothing new for MLS. Prior to the conclusion of the regular season, there was the thrilling, and at times awkward, MLS is Back Tournament. However, this is only advantageous to LAFC, who come into quarterfinals as the only team having not played a first-leg.
CCL Tournament Structure
For all intents and purposes, the CCL has shifted to a single-elimination tournament. As previously stated, LAFC are the only MLS side not to have played a first-leg, and are the only MLS side entering quarterfinals not already behind. Every round going forward will be single-leg matches until a champion is crowned. The tournament is scheduled to conclude within the span of a week, starting on Dec. 15, and concluding with the Final on Dec. 22.
Somehow the phrase “epic collapse” doesn’t describe the week Cruz Azul had. After a seemingly easy 4-0 win in the first-leg of the Liga MX semifinals, they imploded. First was the 4-0 loss in the reverse match, knocking them out of the playoffs. Then, came the positive COVID-19 results, affecting 12 players within the squad, several starters among those. Finally, ending with the manager literally quitting, posting a video to twitter, announcing his decision. Not exactly the week you want when about to travel to face a very talented, and now full-strength, LAFC team.
For the first time since their last CCL match, way back in February, LAFC come into a match at peak full strength. No injuries, no positive COVID tests, no players opting to sit out of travel to Orlando. This will be the LAFC that overcame a two goal deficit to beat Léon in the last round. Speaking to media ahead of the match, head coach Bob Bradley reflected on the way their tournament began.
“We thing back to the beginning of the year, the excitement we had. The goal that we had to win Champions League and the next test is a knockout game against Cruz Azul” Bradley said.
Cruz Azul may be coming into the match with everything going wrong, but underestimating them would be a mistake. Winning the Champions League, becoming the first MLS side ever to do so, will require all the focus LAFC have. No match, regardless of the circumstance, is a gimme.
The Last Word
In all honesty, this match was put on a silver platter for the black and gold. Having a manager step down mere days before a big match like this is hard, but missing starters just compounds on the problems. After all, it was a full-strength LAFC squad that took down the eventual Liga MX Champions, Léon, in thrilling fashion.
The biggest question heading into the match is which LAFC will we see? If it’s the team from February, focused and ready to shock the world, then it could be a long night for Cruz Azul. If we see the inconsistent, unable to create, unsure of themselves 2020 version we’ve seen the last six months, a bad moon could be rising.
A lot of the talk in the run-up to the match harkens back to the start of the year. Focusing on recapturing that mentality, that form, that fire. A time where Carlos Vela declared it was a title or bust year. The best thing LAFC could do is treat this like a different season. MLS is Back tournament, and the year that was the MLS season, are in the past. A chance at a trophy, one of the biggest trophies an MLS side can win, is still up for grabs. Go grab it.