LAFC's trophy hunt falls short, again: 'This actually should piss us off more'

Los Angeles, CA - September 27:  Carlos Vela #10 of Los Angeles FC controls the ball against Guido Pizarro #19 of UANL Tigres in the first half of the Campeones Cup Soccer match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Wednesday, September 27, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)
Carlos Vela was essentially a non-factor Wednesday in LAFC's loss to Liga MX side UANL Tigres in the Campeones Cup. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — Steve Cherundolo stood there with his hands in his pockets.

Ilie Sánchez had his on his waist while Giorgio Chiellini crossed his arms. Those were the select few LAFC players that stayed on the field as a sign of respect as Tigres UANL was awarded the Campeones Cup trophy after a win over the reigning MLS Cup champs in a 4-2 penalty kick shootout.

Yellow, blue and white confetti filled the air as Cherundolo and Co. stormed off the field to the sounds of Queen’s “We Are The Champions” echoing through the speakers at BMO Stadium.

For those keeping count, that’s two Liga MX opponents that have lifted trophies in L.A. in the span of about four months.

When the Black and Gold lost the CONCACAF Champions League Final to Club León in June, it was a much different feeling. They were outplayed in both legs and let an opportunity the organization prioritized as the main objective slip.

Wednesday’s loss was a bit less serious in a single-game final that pits the champs from both leagues against each other. And LAFC didn’t no-show as they had in the prior instance. It was a heated match that saw a pair of red cards, an oddly disallowed goal from Denis Bouanga and had to be decided in a shootout.

“We didn’t plan for penalties, we planned on winning it in 90 minutes,” said LAFC defender Ryan Hollingshead, who had his PK blocked.

Cherundolo interestingly decided to sub his starting goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau out for John McCarthy right before the end of regulation as a strategy for the decisive kicks. It was reminiscent of MLS Cup when McCarthy had to step in after Crépeau broke his leg in extra time and ended up being the hero and MVP.

If this would’ve worked, Cherundolo gets all the applause. It didn’t, however, as Tigres buried all their penalties and keeper Nahuel Guzmán stopped a pair to put it out of reach.

Jesús Angulo buried the winner to the delight of the many supporters in yellow that made themselves felt in every corner of the stadium.

“It’s s***, man. It’s f***ing atrocious,” Crépeau told Yahoo Sports about watching another team celebrate on LAFC’s field. “You don’t want to lose, especially this way at home.”

The Tigres team members cheer as midfielder Guido Pizarro, center, holds up the trophy after the team's 4-2 penalty kick win over Los Angeles FC during a Campeones Cup soccer match Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)
Tigres UANL hoisted the Campeones Cup trophy Wednesday night after beating host LAFC 4-2 in a penalty shootout. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Before the Major League Soccer season started, LAFC relished the opportunity to compete for numerous trophies this year. Little by little, however, those chances have become missed opportunities and regrets for the Black and Gold.

After running through the competition in the early stages, CCL was a letdown in the final. U.S. Open Cup elimination was a product of prioritizing the aforementioned competition and using a secondary roster. They flamed out of Leagues Cup in the quarterfinals by losing to C.F. Monterrey despite leading that game by two goals. Supporters’ Shield, which they’ve won twice in their six years of existence, is on its way to Cincinnati.

Now add Campeones Cup as another trophy that got away.

“There is nothing we are doing wrong, it’s actually a hell of a lot we are doing right,” Cherundolo said. “We are in these positions, we are in finals and we deserve to be there. It’s only a matter of time before we start winning them.”

As time goes on, this year at least, those chances are dwindling.

And while LAFC undoubtedly deserves praise for being in these situations, they also aren’t free of criticism when they fall short.

In big moments it hasn’t been good enough, and that’s something that stems back to the Bob Bradley era. Last year LAFC was finally able to win MLS Cup, but all that really did was ramp up expectations and the desire for more.

The objective for such an ambitious club in a massive market is hardware; LAFC has never functioned otherwise. This year it’s strike after strike.

It’s easy to point fingers at refs and roster rules, two arguments that Cherundolo makes often.

“The rules and regulations of MLS roster building are not ample enough and we are not equipped enough for all these competitions,” he said after the loss. “To create a competitive advantage for MLS, I do think the owners, commissioner, and league office need to sit down, and come up with solutions. Because status quo is not gonna work.”

Los Angeles, CA - September 27:  Timothy Tillman #11 of Los Angeles FC rects after being blocked on a penalty kick as the UANL Tigres defeated the Los Angeles FC 2-1 on penalty kicks to win the Campeones Cup Soccer match at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Wednesday, September 27, 2023. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)
Timothy Tillman had his penalty attempt blocked by Tigres keeper Nahuel Guzmán. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

The absurd schedule LAFC has had to endure isn’t something to just glance over, so his gripes are warranted in certain ways. But even he admits that in these massive moments are not often dictated by tactics and game plans, it’s more on the players that step up.

Those players that he is supposed to count on? There's the issue.

Carlos Vela has essentially turned into a non-factor and a detriment to the offense at times. Veteran defender and leader Giorgio Chiellini violated a dead ball rule that rendered what likely would’ve been the winning goal null. Diego Palacios received a pair of yellow cards in 11 minutes and was sent off. Cristian Olivera, the most dangerous LAFC player on the night, sliced up two defenders and cut into the box then sent the shot completely off target in one of their best chances.

Those things add up and cost you moments of glory. Those are the reasons why the confetti wasn’t Black and Gold on Wednesday.

For its supporters there’s a certain sense of pride in how LAFC functions, but that allure seems to be fading slowly as these big losses stack up. Another bitter loss at the hands of Mexican opposition in what could’ve been a celebration.

It’s starting to feel too familiar for LAFC — the losses and excuses.

“I am not concerned with this group,” Cherundolo said. “They are still hungry for more. This actually should piss us off more.”

Out of the six possible trophies LAFC could’ve won this year, it’s down to just one: MLS Cup. Let’s see how pissed off they actually are.