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Bradley praises ‘big-game’ LAFC ahead of Champions League final

Miami (AFP) – Los Angeles FC manager Bob Bradley believes his team have developed a big-game mentality at just the right time as they attempt to end Major League Soccer’s 20-year CONCACAF Champions League drought on Tuesday.

LAFC take on Mexican side Tigres UANL in Orlando on Tuesday looking to become the first MLS team since Los Angeles Galaxy in 2000 to be crowned champions of of the North America, Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF) region.

The championship game at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium is the final stop on what has been a wild ride through the tournament for LAFC, who advanced to the final on Saturday after a battling 3-1 win over Mexico’s Club America.

That victory came after LAFC fought back from going a goal down and seeing key midfielder Eduard Atuesta controversially sent off following a confrontation with America goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.

Bradley believes the fact that his team maintained composure to win Saturday’s ill-tempered semi-final augurs well for the final.

“That mentality, that ability to focus on pushing on in the game, and not letting things take away from what you’re trying to do — that’s a big game mentality and that’s not always easy as a player or as a team,” Bradley said.

“Because getting swept up in emotion and different situations happens even at the highest level. I think it’s a sign that we’re getting more and more comfortable in these big games.

“We still have this confidence about how we play and how we go about things. For me that was great to see.”

– ‘Our biggest game’ –

Tuesday’s CONCACAF Champions League final is comfortably LAFC’s biggest game since the club made its MLS debut as an expansion team in March 2018.

Victory on Tuesday sees the winners advance to the FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar next February.

“It’s our first final so it’s our biggest game, absolutely,” said Bradley. “We’re excited for the final. Finals are special for players, for coaches, for clubs.”

Tuesday’s game marks the climax of a tumultuous tournament which began in February this year only to be halted abruptly midway through the quarter-finals in March as the pandemic erupted.

The competition resumed last week with all remaining teams playing in a quarantine bubble in Orlando, Florida.

Bradley’s side have navigated a difficult path to the final, coming from behind to beat three Mexican team — traditionally the dominant force in the competition — to reach the final.

Los Angeles overturned a 2-0 first leg deficit to beat Leon in the last 16, then recovered from going 1-0 down to beat Cruz Azul in last week’s quarter-finals before Saturday’s chaotic win over America.

Tuesday’s finale however promises to be the toughest challenge however against a Tigres side desperate to atone for three defeats in the final of the competition in the past four years.

Los Angeles will also have to do without the suspended Atuesta, an influential figure throughout the campaign.

“We wouldn’t be in the final if it wasn’t for Eduard,” Bradley said Monday. “He’s an important player for us, and a really talented young guy. You’re really sad when a young player misses out on a final.”

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