Carlos Vela put in a vintage performance, José Cifuentes added a wonder goal and LAFC strolled into the Concacaf Champions League semifinals Tuesday night by handily defeating Vancouver Whitecaps FC 3-0 (6-0 on aggregate) in their quarterfinal return leg at BMO Stadium.
The Black & Gold will now face the winner of Wednesday's Atlas-Philadelphia Union showdown in the next round, to be played between April and May.
After losing 3-0 at BC Place in last week's opening leg, Vancouver's chances of pulling off a comeback were already razor-thin. And by the time the 8th minute rolled around, they all but vanished.
Even with the series essentially wrapped up, LAFC were happy to keep piling it on. Vela was particularly ruthless, with the Mexican superstar chesting down a pinpoint service from Ilie Sánchez and rifling his shot past goalkeeper Thomas Hasal to make it 2-0 in the 31st minute.
The second half was more of the same: Vancouver did plenty of attacking, but it was the Black & Gold who actually found the back of the net. And boy did Cifuentes find the back of the net, putting the exclamation point on the scoreline in the 65th minute with a brilliant piece of skill and finishing.
- THE BIG PICTURE: Judging by how they've taken care of business so far in the tournament, it's fair to consider the 2022 MLS Cup-Supporters' Shield winners favorites to lift the CCL trophy in 2023. Tuesday night's performance only reinforced the notion LAFC are arguably Concacaf's top side, with the talent and squad depth capable of adding the first piece of international silverware to the club's trophy case.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: The series had long been settled by then, but Cifuentes made a huge statement with his 65th-minute stunner. One of Major League Soccer's top midfielders last season, the Ecuadorian 2022 FIFA World Cup veteran fell down LAFC's pecking order in 2023 with the arrival of Timothy Tillman and needed a moment like this to regain some much-needed confidence.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: For all the talk surrounding Bouanga of late, Vela showed just why he remains the face of LAFC. The 34-year-old played arguably his best game of the season, especially during a dominant first half in which he put the series to bed with a 31-minute brace. With a little more effectiveness in front of goal, Vela easily could've ended the night with a hat trick.