When Eduard Atuesta was issued a red card just before halftime of Saturday’s Concacaf Champions League semifinal between Club America and Los Angeles FC it looked like the call might be a death sentence for an LAFC side that was already trailing by a goal.
Instead of spelling doom, the red card wound up inspiring the MLS side. Bob Bradley’s men emerged from the halftime break motivated and determined, rattling off a pair of Carlos Vela goals in the first 90 seconds of the second half to stun Club America on the way to an eventual 3-1 victory at Exploria Stadium.
The victory books LAFC a place in Tuesday’s CCL final against UANL Tigres, which defeated CD Olimpia, 3-0, in the semifinals earlier on Saturday.
“Amazing effort by the guys,” Bob Bradley said after Saturday’s dramatic win. “At halftime we felt we would still win the game. I didn’t expect a couple minutes into the second Carlos would have scored twice, but the mentality at half, the intensity throughout the second half. Just a team effort where the commitment and the intensity was just awesome.”
Club America struck first in the 11th minute when Sebastian Caceres headed home a corner kick to give the Liga MX side the early lead.
LAFC eventually started putting pressure on Club America’s defense, but struggled to break through, and appeared set to head into halftime down a goal. Instead, the MLS side wound up down a man when Eduard Atuesta was shown a red card after he and Club America goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa became entangled.
Replays showed Ochoa standing over Atuesta, who was on the ground after an earlier challenge and penalty claim, with Ochoa collapsing after Atuesta appeared to make contact as he tried to stand up. There was no VAR review for the match, but after a consultation with the fourth official, the referee ejected Atuesta.
The red card heightened emotions, which boiled over at halftime and led to Club America head coach Miguel Herrera being ejected after an altercation with LAFC assistant coach Ante Razov.
Here’s Miguel Herrera getting way too handsy w/ LAFC assistant Ante Razov & caught a jab for his trouble. Ante Razov is NOT the one. Herrera got off light.
Herrera was ejected, then tried watching in the stands, then got kicked out of there.
— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) December 20, 2020
LAFC came out of the halftime break inspired, and pounced on an early Club America turnover, with Carlos Vela scoring the equalizer just 15 seconds into the second half.
A minute later, it was Vela once again, as he raced onto a perfect long pass from Eddie Segura and finished his second goal in 90 seconds to give LAFC the 2-1 lead.
— Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League (@TheChampions) December 20, 2020
Club America struggled to get into the game, even with the man advantage, but eventually started putting pressure on LAFC’s defense, which avoided mistakes and stood up well to the pressure.
LAFC put the match to bed in the 94th minute when Latif Blessing slotted home a rebounded save to make the score 3-1 and secure LAFC’s place in its first Concacaf Champions League final.
“We’ve constantly tried to find a way we can develop that mentality to win tough games, to get to finals,” Bradley said. “I think we’ve learned from some of the moments that have slipped away from us and tonight you could see the concentration by so many guys.”