LAFC’s remarkable 2022 MLS Cup-Supporters’ Shield double had plenty of pundits predicting an even bigger trophy haul for the Black & Gold this year.
However, as captain Carlos Vela acknowledged on the eve of Wednesday’s Campeones Cup clash against Liga MX powerhouse Tigres UANL (11 pm ET | MLS Season Pass), things haven’t quite gone according to plan.
“When we started the season we had many options to win titles,” Vela said, alluding to the numerous competitions LAFC had to look forward to in 2023. “Now the timing is getting to the end, the titles are reducing.”
In addition to their heartbreaking Concacaf Champions League final loss to Club León in June, the Black & Gold dropped out of the US Open Cup and Leagues Cup in the Round of 16 and quarterfinals, respectively. In league play, they’ve yet to consistently reach the heights of last season, playing second fiddle in the Western Conference to fairytale expansion side St. Louis CITY SC, while FC Cincinnati have all but wrapped this year’s Supporters’ Shield.
Even home-field advantage in the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs is far from a sure thing for LAFC, currently second in the West (12W-9L-9D record) but with plenty of teams nipping at their heels.
Given all this context, there’s a reason why Vela spoke with a sense of urgency ahead of the club’s latest international showdown at BMO Stadium.
“[It's] a really important moment to win a trophy,” the 34-year-old said. “But also to get confidence to… go into the playoffs in a good spot.”
Midfielder Kellyn Acosta was equally as bullish about the significance of capturing Campeones Cup, a yearly contest between both reigning league champions that MLS has won on three straight occasions.
“What we have right here in front of us is an opportunity to lift a trophy,” the US international said. “From our standpoint, obviously what we’ve done in the season is a little bit different, but here’s an opportunity for us to go out there, have a good showcase and, at the end of the day, win some silverware.”
It all sounds straightforward enough, but LAFC are facing arguably the continent’s top team in Tigres.
The most recent Liga MX dynasty, Los Auriazules booked their Campeones Cup spot by winning the 2023 Clausura tile and Campeón de Campeones tournament behind the talents of superstar French striker André-Pierre Gignac, Mexican international Diego Lainez and acclaimed goalkeeper Nahuel Guzmán, among others.
They are just as respected on the international front, defeating none other than LAFC to win CCL in 2020 – the same year they memorably reached the FIFA Club World Cup final before falling to Germany's Bayern Munich.
As such, LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo is making no grandiose promises ahead of what could be a defining match of their 2023 season.
“It’s up to the players now to perform,” Cherundolo said. “If we’re at our very best, we have a chance. But if we’re not, then it could be a long evening.”