Giorgio Chiellini knew everything about LAFC’s opponent in the CONCACAF Champions League round of 16 game, except how to say the name of the Costa Rican team.
“I know the name,” he said. “I was worried and scared because of the mispronunciation.”
It was a veteran move by Chiellini, 38, the ultimate veteran: mispronouncing the team name can be interpreted as disrespect.
But these are some of the things Chiellini can say about Alajuelense (pronounced alaxwe lens) 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 World Cup veterans from Costa Rica, including two Chiellini who faced Italy in the 2014 tournament. And they are at the top of the table with 11 season appearances in the FPD League, while their star striker Johan Venegas leads the league with 17 goals.
The CONCACAF Champions League, the region’s most prestigious club competition, is contested in a two-game tiebreaker format decided by total goals. The second and decisive leg of the LAFC-Alajuelense series will be played on March 15 at BMO Stadium. Last year, the Seattle Sounders became the first MLS team to win the tournament in its current format. LAFC reached the final in 2020, losing to the Tigres de México.
“It’s very important because if you lose the first game, it’s not always easy to come back,” Chiellini said of Thursday’s game. “You have to be serious, play serious, respect the other team. It’s an important goal for us.”
Thursday’s game is one of five LAFC will play during a 14-day stretch that began with Saturday’s 3-2 win over Portland in the team’s MLS season opener.