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LAFC refine their complete game approach to advance to MLS Cup

After a season refining, a dominant performance.

Brenton Tse

In some ways, it doesn’t matter if you start strong or finish strong, if you win in the end.

But for a title contender, putting together complete performances is usually important, and LAFC put on a masterclass Sunday, in beating Austin FC 3-0 at The Banc in the Western Conference Final.

Even with the lopsided scoreline, the game was entirely one-sided. LAFC just barely edged Austin in possession, but absolutely crushed them in offense, with a 22-to-7 edge in shots taken on the day and 10 shots on target to Austin’s single chance on goal. This was a rout, and LAFC had all the answers for their opponent.

Much has been made of LAFC’s penchant to come back from a deficit or to step up in the second half of games this year, and while the black-and-gold got more goals in the 2nd 45 than the 1st, this was a game they controlled from start to finish.

“I think going into this game we are confident and I think everyone looks at us as a second half team but for us to be where we want to be and to take it to the next level, we have to have a complete game and so that starts from the first minute,” said midfielder Kellyn Acosta to reporters after the match.

“I think we did a great job since the warm-up, getting the nerves out, being clean and then from the first minute on, I think we were ready, aggressive, we were intense, we were clinical and at the first opportunity we were able to score a goal and we were constantly creating opportunities and we were on the front foot,” he added.

It’s a tricky balancing act for teams. Teams that find many games to be easy, often struggle to raise their intensity in crunch moments because they don’t have the practice. While LAFC won the Supporters’ Shield this season, they didn’t have many romps along the way, and had to battle back quite a few times to get results. But that is exactly the kind of skill that can come in handy in the playoffs, even though LAFC have yet to be on the losing side so far this postseason.

“I think the guys did an emphatic job of making sure there was only one team playing here next Saturday,” said LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo. “It’s I think the best I’ve seen this year of them implementing our match plan from the first minute to the end, which gives us coaches and the fans and hopefully everybody watching a better feeling watching the game and not worrying until the final minute.”

The spirit of playing smart and playing well and striving for a complete game will need to be with the black-and-gold one more time in 2022, when they host the Philadelphia Union in the MLS Cup Final at The Banc on Saturday.

Cup finals are a different beast, and while several current players — Carlos Vela, Latif Blessing, Jesus David Murillo, Diego Palacios, and Jose Cifuentes — were part of the squad in 2020 that went to the Concacaf Champions League final for LAFC, this will be the club’s first foray into an MLS Cup Final.

But if LAFC can replicate the plan and execution of Sunday’s win over Austin when facing Philly next weekend, they could very well be lifting the MLS Cup trophy come game’s end.

“Like I said, we were ready for today. For us to lift up the Cup, got to be aggressive from the first minute on, because in this game there’s no forgiveness and [if] you don’t start off strong, it’s hard to come back in these games,” said Acosta.

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