LEON, Mexico -- Club Leon coach Ignacio "Nacho" Ambriz poured praise on LAFC star Carlos Vela and said the 2019 MLS MVP is the best Mexican player at present, even if he hasn't been available for El Tri since the 2018 World Cup.
Former Mexico captain Ambriz added his team must stop Vela from seeing much of the ball in Tuesday's CONCACAF Champions League round of 16 first leg in Estadio Leon.
The game will be LAFC's first official international game in its short history, while Vela is set to play his first official club game on Mexican soil.
"For me he's the best player Mexico has right now, football-wise," said Ambriz in Monday's pregame news conference. "I admire him as a player, he's outstanding, in any moment he can swing a game in his favor, at any moment he can make an assist."
Ambriz denied that the visitors from California are at a disadvantage going into the game because Leon has played six rounds of matches in the Liga MX 2020 Clausura season, whereas the CCL game is LAFC's first competitive game since October last year.
The sentiment on Vela was also expressed by the player's own coach, LAFC manager Bob Bradley.
"Carlos was our first signing,"Bradley said. "It was an important statement about the kind of football that we wanted to play about the importance that we'd have a strong connection with Los Angeles and with our supporters.
"He's been amazing. His football, his personality. He's also been a fantastic teammate and leader, someone who comes in everyday with a smile and enjoys the environment that we have and sets example with how he acts and trains."
On Leon's head start to their own domestic season, Bradley said: "It is what it is. We're excited to play the Champions League. Everyone writes and talks about maybe a little disadvantage, but it can't be part of our mentality. We have to take advantage. In order to play against a top team like Leon we have to play really well, so it's something we are motivated for."
Ambriz is also adamant that results show Liga MX is still ahead of MLS on the pitch.
"If we look at the numbers and past tournaments, we can say Mexican football is a little above the MLS because the last champion was Mexico," said Ambriz. "It's true that now it seems like things are starting to even up, but the domination has to be shown on the pitch. That's where you have to prove that you are a step above. The games are complicated."
Tickets for the match have already sold out, Club Leon informed ESPN, and close to 1,000 LAFC fans are expected in the city for the game. Leon fans have even prepared a special welcome for the teams as they walk out ahead of the game.
"[The traveling fans have] energy, passion and pride," Bradley said. "They all respect Leon, but they are all really excited to show that they are proud of LAFC and their role in our connection is really important."
The home side will be without Costa Rica international forward Joel Campbell, who felt some pain Monday morning and was due to undergo an apendicitis operation.
"It's an important loss for me and for us," said Ambriz.