Los Angeles FC came from behind to reach the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday with a battling 2-1 victory over Mexican side Cruz Azul in Orlando.
A stunning 71st-minute volley from second-half substitute Kwadwo Opoku fired the Major League Soccer side into the semi-finals of the competition for the first time in the club’s history.
Opoku’s strike capped a gutsy fightback by Los Angeles, the last remaining team from MLS left in the elite club competition for teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean region (CONCACAF).
The game had got off to the worst possible start for Los Angeles when Cruz Azul took the lead from the penalty spot after only 15 minutes after Eddie Segura brought down Orbelin Pineda in the box.
Peruvian international Yoshimar Yotun stepped up to score from the spot with a perfectly executed Panenka to put Cruz Azul 1-0 up.
Yet Los Angeles got back on level terms seven minutes before half-time when striker Carlos Vela drew a foul from goalkeeper Sebastian Jurado in the area.
Jurado dived the right way from the subsequent penalty but Vela’s shot had just enough pace on it to creep in at the bottom left-hand corner.
With tension mounting in the second half, Los Angeles coach Bob Bradley rolled the dice and brought on 19-year-old Ghanaian winger Opoku on 58 minutes, replacing Danny Musovski.
Bradley’s decision paid off in spectacular fashion soon afterwards, when Opoku lashed in an unstoppable volley from Segura’s flick-on after a Vela corner.
Los Angeles will face Mexico’s Club America in Saturday’s semi-finals.
America were beaten 1-0 by Atlanta United in Wednesday’s other quarter-final game, but progressed 3-1 on aggregate.
Leading 3-0 from the first leg, America never looked in danger of surrendering their advantage against Atlanta, despite conceding an 82nd-minute goal from Jackson Conway as United ground out a 1-0 win.
United were unable to add to Conway’s headed effort, and Atlanta’s night ended on a sour note when Marcelino Moreno was sent off for lashing out after a rugged challenge from Santiago Naveda in the 90th minute.
The finale to this season’s CONCACAF Champions League is being staged at a neutral venue in Orlando, Florida, in order to mitigate risks of disruption from the coronavirus.
Atlanta’s exit was the latest chapter in a disappointing campaign for MLS teams, who have not won the tournament for 20 years.
On Tuesday, Montreal Impact and New York City FC were both eliminated in the quarter-finals, meaning Los Angeles FC are the last remaining MLS team in the draw.