Mexico's domination of the Concacaf Champions League continues, while Tigres UANL's quest to win it is over.
Andre-Pierre Gignac's 84th-minute goal gave Tigres a 2-1 win over LAFC at Orlando City's Exploria Stadium, extending Liga MX's streak of winning the regional title to 15 years. Tigres had fallen in three of the last four finals, and it looked like it may be four out of five after Diego Rossi's go-ahead goal in the 61st minute.
Hugo Ayala's header off a corner kick in the 72nd made it 1-1 before Gignac, who was an injury question entering the final and has been at the heart of Tigres's multitude of success both domestically and continentally over the years, scored the winner. The goal was his sixth of the 2020 CCL, giving him the golden boot and snapping a tie with LAFC's Carlos Vela. Gignac, unsurprisingly, was also named most valuable player of the competition.
In addition to the bragging rights and regional title, Tigres now has a place at February's FIFA Club World Cup, a competition in which no MLS team has ever participated. Three before LAFC had come close (Real Salt Lake, 2011; Montreal Impact, 2015; Toronto FC, 2018), but the wait goes on.
Gignac wound up starting despite his injury worry and put the first chance on frame less than three minutes in. The 35-year-old striker glanced a header on target after a near-post run, but LAFC goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer was all over it, making the simple grab.
Vermeer was called into action a couple of minutes later, charging off his line to beat Javier Aquino to a ball chipped ahead and behind the defense by Leonardo Fernandez.
LAFC's best chances in the opening quarter of an hour came off set pieces, with a corner kick amounting to nothing, and a free kick given after a hard foul on Vela ultimately being cleared. LAFC also had a penalty shout go unheard soon after, with Latif Blessing appearing to draw contact in the box. Concacaf does not have VAR available for the competition, so referee Mario Escobar's initial ruling was final.
Physicality wound up being a common theme throughout the remainder of the half. Vela alone drew five fouls, and LAFC drew 14 as a team while committing 12 of its own, though Escobar kept the cards in his pocket throughout.
LAFC enjoyed its best sequence in the 54th minute, building from its own end line and ending with a Vela chip that went wide. The move included a perfectly executed dummy from Blessing, which allowed LAFC to spring free through Rossi.
LAFC nearly had a clear look two minutes later through halftime substitute Kwadwo Opoku, whose 16-yard chance was blocked at the last moment by Javier Dueñas and put out for a corner.
LAFC finally broke through in the 61st minute, getting the reward for its positive play after halftime. Rossi got the goal, chipping goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman after Mark Anthony Kaye's clipped ball to the back post, completing a fabulous sequence.
Vela nearly made it 2-0 five minutes later, with his clear look inside the box being blocked.
The lead didn't last long. Ayala redirected a corner kick inside the far post, where Kaye was unable to clear it off the line, making it 1-1 in the 72nd minute.
The goal gave Tigres new life and all of the momentum, and it was Gignac that capitalized in the 84th minute with the go-ahead strike. Luis Rodriguez set it up with a run through the center, laying off the ball for Gignac at the edge of the box. He hit a low blast by a rooted Vermeer, sparking celebrations for the Mexican side.
The Club World Cup will take place in Doha, Qatar, from Feb. 1-11. Already qualified in addition to Tigres are Bayern Munich (Europe), Al Ahly (Africa), Ulsan Hyundai (Asia), Auckland City (Oceania) and Al Duhail (Hosts). CONMEBOL's Copa Libertadores will determine the final qualifier in late January.