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This MLS Cup Final already hailed best MLS game in history

What an incredible 130-plus minutes it was.

Brenton Tse

If you’ve watched LAFC with any regularity in their first five years, you know this is a team that has a penchant for the dramatic within games.

And while the newly crowned MLS Cup champions have been on the good side of some incredibly wild games in that span, including Saturday’s MLS Cup final, they’ve also been on the wrong side of some of the truly incredible matches, too. Two words: Zlatan’s debut.

Ok, too soon on that, but literally within minutes of the game ending, with LAFC beating the Union in MLS Cup in a penalty shootout after a 3-3 draw through, sorry, 130 minutes, with both teams taking the lead on the day before the foe pegged them back, with LAFC going down a man in the final minutes that also meant a serious injury to starting goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, with Gareth Bale’s late, late, late goal canceling out Jack Elliott’s unexpected brace for Philly — this was a game that had so many incredible moments, it was a treat for all.

Throw in the many narratives coming into the match, from two first-time finalists on the cusp of a first league title, LAFC’s many high-profile signings, adding Bale, Giorgio Chiellini, and Cristian Tello to Carlos Vela this year, in contrast to Philly’s aggressive approach in developing and selling on academy products, to the teams’ different playing style, with Philly going for the most direct play this side of a Red Bull club, and LAFC adding a comfort with possession to their counterattacking quiver this year, and there was more than enough to talk about. It’s not quite fair to boil it down to “Big city glamour vs. blue-collar grime” but there are elements of truth to it.

The reality is that this was a game where it was kind of unfair that one team had to lose. Coming in, the Union and LAFC had drawn their last three meetings, dating back to 2019, and while the teams only normally play once a year at most, they match up very, very well against each other.

Many will point to things like the putrid passing accuracy in MLS Cup between the teams, which is normally a sign that the quality of play was bad, but that wasn’t quite it in MLS Cup. These teams inhabited different identities than they normally do: Coming in, everyone assumed LAFC would have the edge in possession, but lo and behold, the Union with just under 53 percent in the match led the way. Five of the six goals came from set pieces, with only Bale’s goal coming in the run of play...although that felt like a set piece goal, too, with Bale posted up from point blank range in front of goal and heading in a cross from the endline.

Neither team looked plainly bad, or nervous to the point where they were choking in the moment, which is a common problem in finals in this sport. Each team simply battled to stop the other side, while also trying to find the edge in attack. And set pieces, with nary a penalty in sight (until the shootout, of course) kept flipping the script. LAFC scored once each in each half, plus in the extra time, while the Union’s goals came in the second half (x2) and extra time.

What puts this game over to being the best ever? It was MLS Cup, of course. Most of the time, when you see the final being decided in a shootout, the score before that is 1-1, which often means pretty boring in long stretches, to be honest. That wasn’t the case here. The six goals in MLS Cup on Saturday is the most since 2003, when the San Jose Earthquakes beat the Chicago Fire 4-2, and six goals between the teams makes 2003 and 2022 the joint highest-scoring MLS Cups in league history. There have been five prior penalty shootouts to decide MLS Cup in league history, and four of those times, the score was 1-1, with one being 0-0 through 120 minutes.

Throw in John McCarthy, the most unlikely MLS Cup MVP since Guillermo Ramirez in 2005, coming up with two penalty stops against his former side after entering the game in the 117th minute, and it’s an incredible game.

Again, it’s easy to say from the winning side but this was a game where it was unfair either team had to lose. The Union came to the very brink, and they would have been good value for a win, and LAFC were also good value for the title. It was the finest of margins that decided the game, and both teams put on a show worthy of a final. It was unforgettable, and it was special to witness what we all just witnessed.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.