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Major League Soccer’s losing streak in the CONCACAF Champions League has entered its third decade.
As much as the Los Angeles Football Club did MLS proud by beating three of Mexico’s best teams and reaching the finale of this coronavirus-cursed year’s competition, it wasn’t enough to end MLS’ long run of futility in the top club competition in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
LAFC dropped the final to Liga MX titan Tigres 2-1 Tuesday in Orlando after Diego Rossi had given the Californians a brief second-half lead.
Even with the business end of the tournament moved to LAFC’s home country after being delayed for nine months in the wake of the health crisis, even with none of the usual difficult trips to jam-packed stadiums south of the border to navigate, and even with the supremely gifted Mexican national team veteran Carlos Vela carrying Bob Bradley’s team on his back, the squad just couldn’t close the deal.
LAFC becomes the fourth MLS side (and the second American one) to lose in the final since 2001, joining Real Salt Lake (2011), Montreal (2015), and Toronto FC (2018).
Only two MLS teams have taken the CONCACAF title since MLS kicked off a quarter century ago this year: D.C. United in 1998 and the LA Galaxy two years later. In both of those cases, the entire competition was held in the eventual champion’s home city. For the past 16 editions, until this year like no other, home-and home-series had been the norm.
But while the pandemic changed the format in 2020, seemingly to the benefit of the four remaining MLS representatives, the outcome remained the same as ever, even if it was at least temporarily in doubt after Rossi opened the scoring off a fine feed from Mark-Anthony Kaye:
Bradley’s side looked in a pretty good spot at that point. But while Vela was once again the best player on the field, the cold hard reality is that all MLS teams are at distinct disadvantage against their Mexican counterparts in international play because of the league’s salary and roster restrictions.
Tigres’ payroll is multiples of LAFC’s. And for as well as the third-year club played, that really, really matters in a match with as much riding on it as this one — one Tigres, Liga MX’s most successful team in the 2010s, was just as desperate to win, with the Monterrey-based club somehow having never worn the CONCACAF crown before.
So after Tigres’ all-time appearance leader Hugo Ayala equalized just 11 minutes later, it was clear which way the momentum was heading. And sure enough, almost on cue, former French national team striker André-Pierre Gignac fired home the winner with just over five minutes of normal time to play. Gignac’s first-time shot following a mazy Luis Alfonso Rodríguez run beat LAFC keeper Kenneth Vermeer clean:
And that, for the 19th consecutive year, was that. Tigres will now move on to represent this corner of the globe in February’s FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar, where they’ll be joined by the likes of defending European champion Bayern Munich.
Meantime, MLS teams will be watching from home yet again, with fans of a league that has made genuinely incredible progress off the field over the last two decades left wondering when MLS will be able, or willing, to really make a case for remotely similar improvement on it.
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