LAFC vs. Philadelphia Union – Football Match Report – November 5, 2022

LOS ANGELES — LAFC clinched its first MLS Cup title with a 3-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union after a thrilling, roller-coaster final Saturday at Bank of California Stadium.

Substitute goalkeeper John McCarthy, in just his second game for the club, was LAFC’s hero, coming off the bench late in extra time to save two penalties in the shootout against his hometown.

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Minutes earlier, Philadelphia looked to have won the Cup for the first time when Jack Elliott scored his second goal of the game from close range at the end of extra time. By that point, LAFC had been reduced to 10 players after a red card to goalkeeper Maxime Crapo minutes earlier.

But Welshman Gareth Bale, who came off the bench in extra time, miraculously equalized for LAFC with the latest goal in MLS history in the 128th minute.

It followed a breathless finish similar to regulation time.

Jesus Murillo put LAFC ahead 2-1 with seven minutes left in regulation, but Philadelphia equalized almost immediately through Elliott’s first goal.

All four goals in regulation came from set-pieces, with Kelyn Acosta giving LAFC the lead in the 27th minute through a converted penalty and then Daniel Gasdag’s half-cleared corner equalizing for the Union.

The result is that LAFC became the first team since Toronto FC to win both the Supporters’ Shield and the MLS Cup as the best regular season team in 2017. Saturday marked the first time since 2003 that the No. 1 seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences faced off in MLS’s showpiece game.

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After successful efforts from Denis Bouanga and Ryan Hollingshead, midfielder Ilie Sanchez scored the winning penalty for LAFC. Philadelphia failed to find the net from the spot, Gasdag sliding in and sending his effort over the crossbar as McCarthy dived to deny Jose Martinez and Kai Wagner.

“The first 10, 15 minutes, it was a Halloween movie,” Carlos Vela said of watching from the bench after replacing Bale in the 97th minute. “And then we’ll finish with a Hollywood movie.”

A few hours ago, the game started with a small hint of the thrill ride to come.

There was more than an element of luck about the opening goal of the game in the 28th minute.

Martinez, always living on the fringes of the Philadelphia midfield, made a careless mistake more than 20 yards from goal and made to pay when Acosta’s right-footed effort took a wicked deflection off the Union wall and the left goalkeeper’s head. Andre Blake was lost as he looked for the corner of the net.

The tempo of the game immediately picked up as LAFC sensed an opportunity to extend its lead before halftime. As he has done so often this season, Blake came up big to keep Philadelphia alive, making a block from point-blank range to deny Diego Palacios’ volley.

Philadelphia finally created a chance of its own in the 43rd minute, only for a sensational last-ditch challenge from LAFC’s fourth-choice center back Sebastian Ibega — replacing Giorgio Chiellini — to claim the ball while he was holding it. On target.

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Despite going into the half-time interval a goal down in a pumpkin-like atmosphere on the road, the Union remained undeterred. The game was tied within 15 minutes of the second half.

Again the goal came from a set-piece and again there was an element of luck. Martinez rejoined. This time he broke a corner from over 35 yards and his ambitious shot was well into the path of Gasdag, who turned smartly before finishing high into the net.

The Hungary international’s 24th goal of the season restored parity and set up a nail-biting final 30 minutes as the LAFC supporters turned up the volume once again to encourage their team to find a winner.

However, no one can predict how dramatic the finale will be.

The breathless action began in the 83rd minute. Murillo rose highest at the near post to slot past Blake from captain Vela’s tip in the right swing corner in front of the LAFC supporters section.

The happiness will last less than two minutes. Another set-piece and more loose defending allowed Elliott to meet Wagner’s free-kick and beat Crapo despite the LAFC keeper getting a glove.

Crepeau’s true place in the play was yet to come. With 110 minutes on the clock, the Canada international raced out of his box to try and prevent Union striker Corey Burke from getting on the end of a short back pass. But doing so cost him both a red card after a VAR review, and a serious-looking leg injury that required minutes of treatment and a cart to carry him off the field.

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For Crepo, the injury also means the end of his World Cup hopes.

“I saw his face, we saw his emotions,” said McCarthy, who won the MLS Cup MVP award. “For me, it was the play of the game. If he slips and misses it will be 3-2 and who knows how the game will end.

“He came out and made that play and made a big-time decision. I feel bad for him because it looks like he’ll miss the World Cup because it’s a serious injury. You don’t come out of this game. A band-aid.”

When Elliott put the Union ahead for the first time in the 124th minute, it looked as if there was no way back for the hosts, despite the supporters who have made Bank of California one of the best places in MLS since the team entered the league. In 2018, they tried to encourage once again.

Even with a superstar like Bale on the field, there is always a chance.

The 33-year-old, who has played sparingly since joining from Real Madrid in the summer, justified his hype with an equalizer that will live long in LAFC history, combined with McCarthy’s saves.

“This place deserves this,” said first-year coach Steve Cherundolo, who engineered a massive turnaround from a team that missed the postseason last year. “These fans are amazing. They deserve a trophy and they got it.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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