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Club León and LAFC have both felt CONCACAF heartbreak

This year’s final offers a chance at redemption for two beaten finalists looking to make history.

Club León and LAFC have felt CCL heartbreak
Alex MenendezAFP

The final of the 2023 CONCACAF Champions League final between Club León and LAFC begins on Wednesday with the first leg in Mexico.

Estadio León will be the venue for the first leg, with the return fixture to be held in the BMO Stadium on Sunday. Neither Club León nor LAFC have previously won this competition but both know what it feels like to fall at the final hurdle.

Club León were runners up in the CONCACAF tournament in 1993, while LAFC were beaten finalists in 2020. We take a look at both sides’ near misses…

Club León, CONCACAF Champions’ Cup runners up 1993

This years marks exactly three decades since Club León came agonisingly close to being crowned the continental champions. Until recently the flagship CONCACAF club competition was known as the Champions Cup, bringing together the best teams in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

The format of the tournament varied over the years but for the 29th edition in 1993 the competition’s winner was decided with a four-team ‘final tournament’. The four teams comprised of the three best teams from the North/Central groups and the best team from the Caribbean.

The final tournament, held in Guadalajara, was played in December 1993 and pitted León against Surinamese side Robinhood; Costa Rica’s Saprissa; and Municipal of Guatemala.

Going into the final round of fixtures León topped the group, ahead of Saprissa in second, and with a comfortably superior goal difference. León secured a 0-0 draw in their final match, seemingly enough to lift the trophy.

But it was not to be. Saprissa beat Robinhood 9-1 to see them overtake León on goal difference. This was the first of Saprissa’s three CONCACAF titles but Club León have not managed to win one since.

LAFC, CONCACAF Champions League runners up, 1993

It took Club León more than 25 years to get so close to the peak of CONCACAF football. LAFC nearly reached those heights in just their third season as a team.

The 2018 expansion side made a lightning-fast start to life in MLS and ended their first season with a third-place finish in the Western conference. They won the MLS Cup the following year to secure passage to the CONCACAF Champions League in 2020.

That edition of the tournament was shortened due to the covid-19 pandemic with single-legged fixtures in a centralised location to reduce the amount of travel necessary.

LAFC made it to the final of the competition, beating three Liga MX sides (Club León, Cruz Azul and Club América) along the way. Incredibly they faced a fourth consecutive Mexican team, Tigres, in the final but it was to prove a step to far for Bob Bradley’s men.

The MLS side took a second half lead through Diego Rossi but an equaliser from Hugo Ayala and late strike from Andre-Pierre Gignac ensured that Tigres took the title. Three years on LAFC are once again riding high in the Western Conference and will hope that they now have the big-game experience needed to claim the continent’s highest club honour.