LAFC vs. Alajuelense: What to know ahead of Thursday’s CONCACAF Champions League game

LAFC vs. Alajuelense: What to know ahead of Thursday’s CONCACAF Champions League game
Los Angeles FC players stand on the field with their 2022 MLS Championship rings

LAFC players stand on the field with their 2022 MLS championship rings before a match against Portland on March 4 at BMO Stadium.

(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Giorgio Chiellini knew everything about LAFC’s opponent in the round of 16 game in the CONCACAF Champions League except how to say the Costa Rica team’s name.

“I know the name,” he said. “I was worried and scared about the bad pronunciation.”

It was a veteran move by Chiellini, 38, the ultimate veteran: Mispronounce the team’s name and it can be misconstrued as a sign of disrespect.

But here are some of the things Chiellini can say about Alajuelense (pronounced alaxwe lense) where LAFC will play Thursday: The club, based about 20 miles northwest of San Jose, has won 30 national championships and two Champions League titles. The team’s roster includes five Costa Rican World Cup veterans, including two Chiellini faced with Italy in the 2014 tournament. And it is atop the table 11 games into the Liga FPD season while its star forward Johan Venegas leads the league with 17 goals.

The CONCACAF Champions League, the region’s most prestigious club competition, is contested in a two-leg playoff format decided by aggregate goals. The second and deciding leg of the LAFC-Alajuelense series will be played March 15 at BMO Stadium. Last year the Seattle Sounders became the first MLS team to win the tournament under its present format. LAFC made the final in 2020, losing to Mexico’s Tigres.

“It’s very important because if you lose the first game, then it’s not easy every time to come back,” Chiellini said of Thursday’s match. “You have to be serious, play serious, respect the other team. It is an important goal for us.”

Thursday’s game is one of five LAFC will play during a 14-day span that began with Saturday’s 3-2 win over Portland in the team’s MLS season opener.

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Kevin Baxter writes about soccer and other things for the Los Angeles Times, where he has worked for 24 years. He has covered five World Cups, three Olympic Games, six World Series and a Super Bowl and has contributed to three Pulitzer Prize-winning series at The Times and Miami Herald. An essay he wrote in fifth grade was voted best in the class. He has a cool dog.