The 2020 Concacaf Champions League has come down to this. Nine months after the competition kicked off, it comes to a dramatic conclusion Tuesday night with history-chasing LAFC taking on Tigres UANL in the final at Exploria Stadium in Orlando.
On the line? A regional crown, a spot in the FIFA Club World Cup 2020, now scheduled to be played February 1-11, 2021 in Qatar, and bragging rights between the two biggest leagues in the confederation.
Will LAFC become the first MLS team to win the CCL or will Tigres continue Liga MX's dominance of the competition and finally lift the trophy after four three previous empty trips to the final in the last four years?
Here's what to watch for in the final Tuesday night.
- 2020 Concacaf Champions League bracket
- LAFC: We had to be "smart enough" to overcome America's theatrics
- Boehm: Inspired by Vela, LAFC rise above chaos to reach CCL final
- LAFC are through! CCL final awaits after Vela brace vs. Club America
- Watch: Vela scores two in two minutes for 10-man LAFC
- Should Atuesta have seen red in LAFC's CCL game vs. Club America?
- Bradley shoots down Blessing, Vela transfer rumors
- Complete 2021 CCL field (almost) set: See who made the cut
LAFC vs. Tigres UANL
Tues., 10 pm ET | FS2, TUDN in US
An MLS-Liga MX final is what many hoped for, and expected, when the draw was announced more than a year ago. It is the fourth time the leagues square off in the CCL final, with Mexico claiming all the glory to this point. It started with Monterrey edging Real Salt Lake in 2011, continued with Club America rallying to defeat the Montreal Impact in 2015 and then with Matias Almeyda's Chivas Guadalajara celebrating following a penalty kick shootout victory over Toronto FC after a thrilling 3-3 tie on aggregate three years later.
In fact, since the competition was rebranded and altered from the previous Concacaf Champions Cup, a Mexican team has won all 11 CCL titles
Of course, the big difference from those finals to this is, in the restart after the COVID-19-related halt in the tournament, CCL has switched to a single leg in a neutral, closed-door location, which takes away some of the perceived advantage Liga MX teams have enjoyed over the past decade-plus.
So how did we get here? LAFC have undoubtedly had the most challenging road to their first major final. They made CCL history by becoming the first MLS team to erase a 2-0 first-leg deficit to advance in the competition with a famous 3-0 victory over Club Leon at the Banc of California Stadium in the Round of 16 back in March.
Overcoming a deficit against a Liga MX team would become a theme for LAFC, which trailed Cruz Azul early before winning 2-1 in the single-leg quarterfinal. Bob Bradley's side also rallied from a first-half deficit, and a controversial sending off of star midfielder Eduard Atuesta, to beat Club America 3-1 in the semifinals Saturday night.
Playing a starring role throughout the run has been Carlos Vela, the Mexican superstar has scored five goals in the tournament in his first matches against Liga MX foes, including a rapid-fire brace just after halftime against Club America.
Watch: Carlos Vela's stunning brace vs. Club America in CCL semifinals
“I’ve said it a few times, Carlos, it's special for him to play these teams,” Bradley said after the match. “And it also comes in a year where obviously with different important family responsibilities and then an MCL injury, he missed a lot.
“So you can tell that at the end of this year, how much it means to him and when that comes across all the other players, that's obviously a special kind of leadership. And then he backs it up on the field. I mean not only with the two goals, but late in the game, his ability to run with the ball forward, get into the corner, take a foul, do all the little things that help you manage a difficult game.”
Tigres UANL will look to exorcise the demons of CCL finals past, although their run to Tuesday's title tile nearly derailed back in February. Tuca Ferretti's side bounced back from a 2-1 loss to Alianza in San Salvador to win 4-2 at home in the second leg. Goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman sent Tigres through with a stoppage-time goal.
Another stoppage-time goal, this by Eduardo Vargas, gave Tigres a slim 1-0 victory over NYCFC in the first leg of the quarterfinals at Red Bull Arena on March 11 and comfortably cruised 4-0 in the second leg at Exploria Stadium Dec. 15.
Highlights: Tigres UANL 4, NYCFC 0 - CCL quarterfinals, second leg
A 3-0 victory over upset-minded Olimpia, who stunned both the Seattle Sounders and Montreal Impact to reach the semifinals, booked a second consecutive appearance in the final.
Like Vela with LAFC, Tigres have been guided by their star attacker with the ageless André-Pierre Gignac also scoring five goals.
A year ago, Tigres fell to Monterrey 2-1 on aggregate in the final. They lost in back-to-back title matches to Club America and Pachuca in 2016 and 2017.
“People can look at a glass any way they want. Some see it half-full; others see it half-empty. For me, I see it as being glass half-full, but people might criticize and say it is half-empty because we have lost the three finals that we have played prior to this," Ferretti told Concacaf.com. "And many people say that we are not interested in this Concacaf tournament. If we weren’t interested, we wouldn’t have reached so many finals.”
“I think that it is a squad that is always looking to play this competition. We have earned before the Mexican league championship, but the title we have lacked is this Concacaf championship. Now we have another opportunity and hopefully through the strength and football that the boys play, we can get the title,” Ferretti added.