Five years. That’s how long this moment has been in the making for LAFC. Since their arrival to the MLS in 2018, one thing has remained as consistent as ever, their unrelenting desire to hoist the MLS Cup. After several disappointing postseason outings, after a 2021 season that saw them miss the playoffs all together, LAFC step onto the pitch for the last time in 2022, with everything on the line. Hosting the Philadelphia Union, the black-and-gold were looking to secure their first ever Championship and take their place amongst the pantheon of LA sports.
From Los Angeles. #ForLosAngeles. pic.twitter.com/uSIp7E0NL6— LAFC (@LAFC) November 5, 2022
This wouldn't be easy for the home side. They were hosting not just the best team in the Eastern Conference, but the team who has stayed stride for stride with them all season. If we’re honest, this is a team that's been building towards this moment for five years themselves, so this is a match for the ages, with it all on the line, between two teams separated by razor thin margins. It would likely come down to who handles the moment better, and who can make fewer mistakes. The talking, the hype, the anticipation was all over. It was time for the most important 90 minutes of this club’s short history.
As many would have guessed, the early stages of the match were very much a chess match. LAFC maintained possession and found the bulk of attacking chances in the first five minutes, while Philly found the same for the subsequent five minutes. LAFC put together a chance that came close in the tenth minute, but couldn't convert and we remained scoreless.
It took 28 minutes, but a free kick from just a few yards outside the box gave LAFC their second best opportunity of the early stages. Carlos Vela and Kellyn Acosta stepped up, Vela hit us with the pump fake, and it was Acosta who took the chance at goal. A friendly deflection sent the ball bouncing into the far side, past Andre Blake for the early lead.
Banc Shot. #ForLosAngeles pic.twitter.com/j4ORc0Fgz7— LAFC (@LAFC) November 5, 2022
A second goal nearly came for LAFC courtesy of another free kick from almost the same exact spot. Kellyn Acosta nearly tapped one in from the far post, but MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, Andre Blake, made easy work of it and kept his team trailing by just a single goal going into the halftime break. After a somewhat timid first 45 from both teams, the second half was setting up to be full of madness and chaos with both sides proving to be far more lethal in the second half of matches throughout the season.
Stay on the gas. #ForLosAngeles pic.twitter.com/kNz5gYqNNB— LAFC (@LAFC) November 5, 2022
The second half started a bit slower than the first, with players going down for extended time after collisions. With everyone okay, it was Philadelphia who benefited from the next goal scored. A perfectly timed run and pass lead to a wide open, and fairly easy tap in for the Union’s Daniel Gazdag. The 59th minute goal brought us level, and it was game on once again, with just over half an hour left and everything to play for.
All. Tied. Up.— Major League Soccer (@MLS) November 5, 2022
Daniel Gazdag levels it!#DOOP x #MLSCup pic.twitter.com/00HcMIj5JG
Just when it looked like this match was definitely headed for extra time, LAFC took advantage of a corner kick in the 83rd minute. Vela, as always sent in a really delicious ball, and Jesus Murillo went up and slammed it home with a header for the late lead.
MURI MAGIC. #LAFC 2 - 1 @PhilaUnion pic.twitter.com/9kWnprBR7A— LAFC (@LAFC) November 5, 2022
Philadelphia responded immediately, scoring their second of the match just minutes later, courtesy of Jack Elliot. Once again, we were level and it was back to looking like extra time was very much in the cards. The final whistle went off after a lengthy amount of added time, and we were headed for extra time in the final match of the season. Given the history between these two sides, this was absolutely no surprise.
The first half of the extra time was really telling in terms of what the mindset was for both sides. Philly were conservative, not putting themselves in too much danger, very much playing for the penalty shootout while they worked to catch LAFC sleeping. You can't blame them either, with the league’s best goalkeeper, they held the slight advantage should it go to a shootout. For LAFC however, they were very much searching for the winning goal, trying to avoid the chaos that comes with such a shootout.
The second half of extra time was when it all started going wrong for LAFC. Maxime Crepeau was caught out as an attacker was barreling down on him and he took the risk of going for save outside the box, but unfortunately got called for not just the foul, but was shown a red. What’s worse, he injured his leg on the play, and immediately called for the cart. That meant LAFC would play the rest of extra time down a man, with backup goalkeeper, John McCarthy, in between the posts.
We love you, Maxime.— LAFC (@LAFC) November 5, 2022
Philadelphia took full advantage of the moment, and it didn't take long for them to find their third goal of the day. Jack Elliot was the one to put it past his former teammate John McCarthy for the late lead. Had the match ended with that, it would have been absolutely heartbreaking for an LA side that deserved so much more given the year they had. Then it happened. HE happened. After all the jokes about him not playing much, with seconds left Gareth Bale sent The Banc into an unreal frenzy as he slammed home an equalizer in the final seconds of extra time, sending it to a penalty shootout with the black-and-gold looking good after a jolt of energy straight to their hearts.
HE'S GARETH ******* BALE. #ForLosAngeles pic.twitter.com/yqqi67RSdz— LAFC (@LAFC) November 5, 2022
Now, LAFC were just a penalty shootout away from the prize they've had eyes on since the moment they came into the league. Now it was down to the MLS best, Andre Blake doing work while his former teammate John McCarthy looked to use that familiarity to his advantage. It all came down to the shootouts. The first takers for both side couldn't convert, but it was Bounga to get the first success for LAFC, giving them the advantage after round two as Philadelphia’s second taker had his shot saved. Former Philly keeper, John McCarthy is called Big John for a reason and after today, BIGGEST JOHN as he came up with two straight saves to secure the first-ever MLS Cup for the black-and-gold. Enjoy it Los Angeles, despite all the late obstacles, LAFC overcame and did what they needed to do to lift the cup for the first time ever.
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