CCL Final a failure for LAFC? "It's not the right moment for that word"


In his postmatch press conference Sunday evening after LAFC lost to Club León in the 2023 Concacaf Champions League Final (3-1 aggregate), head coach Steve Cherundolo conceded the Liga MX side were the deserved champions, the better team across the two legs.

And while it’s clear LAFC, a team that won the Supporters’ Shield/MLS Cup double a year ago, didn’t reach their objective in the tournament, Cherundolo wouldn’t call it a failure.

“It's not the right time, right moment for that word,” Cherundolo said after the 1-0 Leg 2 defeat at BMO Stadium. “I think this team has been fantastic over 18 months and has achieved so much. It's put a lot of smiles on a lot of peoples' faces, has played some very good football and competed for another final, came up a little short. That’s competitive sports, professional sports.”

A year after Seattle Sounders FC made history as the first MLS club to win this iteration of the continental championship, LAFC became the fifth MLS team to lose to a Mexican side in the final. And it’s the second time the Black & Gold have fallen, also losing in the single-leg 2020 final, to Liga MX's Tigres UANL at an empty Exploria Stadium due to COVID-19 global pandemic restrictions.

“Guys fought like lions,” Cherundolo said. “They did everything in their power to try to win this match. A few bounces don't go our way, early chances don't go in and then you let one in and you're chasing the game.”

The goal LAFC conceded – a 20th-minute strike by Lucas Di Yorio – was described as “soft” by Cherundolo. And the club’s captain and leader, former Landon Donovan MLS MVP and Golden Boot presented by Audi winner Carlos Vela, was ineffective and subbed off for Stipe Biuk in the 64th minute.

“Carlos wasn't impacting the game at that moment,” Cherundolo said. “And we needed a couple goals and I felt that fresh legs and some more wing play with Stipe would affect the game more, and that's all really I can say about that.”

While Club León have ample time to celebrate their first CCL title – their next competitive game comes July 21 against Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the Leagues Cup – LAFC have an unenviable quick turnaround to host Atlanta United in league play Wednesday evening (10:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass). They're three points off the Western Conference pace St. Louis CITY SC have set and have two games in hand on the expansion club. 

“My words to the group I can share with you are exactly that. It's look, this hurts, it should hurt,” Cherundolo said, with LAFC unable to make good on a 2-1 Leg 1 setback. “Go home, lick your wounds, and then we'll get back to work because we have a lot of work to do. And I think there's still a lot of goals and points out there for us this year.”

Added midfielder Kellyn Acosta: “Obviously we’re going to have a sour taste in our mouths. It was a difficult game today, but overall we can be proud of ourselves. It was a long run to get to this point. We hoped to win, but we turn the page, big one on Wednesday against Atlanta and we move forward.”