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Los Angeles FC will take on Philadelphia Union at the Banc of California Stadium in the MLS Cup final
Los Angeles FC have already won the MLS Supporters' Shield this season
Philadelphia Union topped the Western Conference
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It’s all going to come down to this game. The two best sides in the league all season are going to face off in the MLS Cup final. Neither of them have won the MLS Cup before, which adds another layer of intrigue to this fixture.
When the two sides met in May earlier this year, nothing could separate them, with the match ending in a 2-2 draw. Something will have to give this time. The two clubs have only faced each other four times, with LAFC coming out on top 4-1 in their first meeting back in 2018.
Since that first meeting, the two sides have played out three draws. There’s very little to separate these teams at the moment. LAFC play at home, which certainly tips things slightly in their favor.
The two sides have got bags of quality on the two ends of the field, they’ve been building towards a moment like this for a few years, and they’d both be deserving of silverware if the final goes in their favor - but only one team will lift the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy.
The last meeting between the two sides certainly lived up to the pre-game hype. LAFC started the game with great urgency, but Philadelphia Union scored the first goal in the 9th minute. Kai Wagner, who has been on point with his passes from the left flank all season, found Daniel Gazdag on the far post, who calmly slotted the ball into the net.
LAFC had a goal disallowed a few minutes earlier as well, but this didn’t seem to bog them down. LAFC have been slow starters all season, but they’ve never looked flustered when going down a goal, and it was the same in this tie.
Jose Cifuentes, who had been a threat all game, found Kwadwo Akpo to score the equalizer in the 56th minute, but they had to come from behind once again 11 minutes later. Julian Carranza’s brilliant curling effort with his left foot was scored against the run of play but showed just how lethal Philadelphia Union’s forward options have been all season.
LAFC clawed their way back into the game for the second time thanks to Franco Escobar in the 82nd minute. The match ended 2-2, and if this is a teaser of what’s to come in the final, MLS fans should have a lot to look forward to in the final.
There was an air of inevitability to LAFC’s showing against Austin FC in the Western Conference finals. They were dominant from the get-go – there was no slow start this time. They took 22 shots in this game to Austin FC’s seven.
Austin FC’s Brad Stuver was put in a match-of-the-match display, but he couldn’t stop Cristian Arango and co from peppering his goal. Arango, who has been LAFC’s best player going forward this season, found the back of the net in the 29th minute from a set-piece.
It was all one-way traffic following this goal, but Stuver was in top form. His resolve was broken when an own goal from Maximiliano Urruti in the 62nd minute killed the game. LAFC managed the rest of the game well, scoring their third in the 81st minute thanks to Kwadwo Opuku. LAFC sent a real marker with this performance – they looked like champions in the making.
It’ll be important for the senior players in the side to lead by example in the finals. Carlos Vela has been the face of LAFC, and one of the faces of the MLS for the last few years. To crystallize his legacy in this competition, he needs to win the competition at least. The stars seem to have finally aligned for him, and the club.
Chiellini is a recent acquisition; this might not be the biggest game he’s played in his illustrious career, but his humble and selfless disposition makes him the perfect player to lead the backline into such an important game. It’ll calm the entire team to know that they have a player of his ilk in the squad.
This is the type of game where the big players have to make their mark, and LAFC have got a few of them in their ranks.
There’s been a lot of talk about destiny throughout LAFC’s playoff run. They’ve certainly been building toward a moment like this, but the same can be said for Philadelphia Union. They can’t be paying attention to all the noise around them. They’re facing a stern test against Philadelphia Union, who have arguably been the hardest team to play against all season.
Playing at home will certainly be a big advantage for LAFC, but they need to approach it like every other game. A lot has been invested into this side, and they’ve already won the MLS Supporters’ Shield this season, but there’s still a job to be done.
For a minute, it looked like Philadelphia Union were going to be knocked out of the competition. New York City FC had most of the possession in the Eastern Conference finals -- 66% of it – but the Philadelphia Union didn’t let this affect them.
New York City FC opened the scoring in the 57th minute thanks to Maximiliano Moralez. At that moment, it looked like the defending champions’ recent resurgence was not a one-off, that they were going to make the MLS Cup finals again, but the steely determination that has been a facet of Philadelphia Union all season came to the fore once again.
The Union got the equalizer just eight minutes later thanks to Julian Carranza, before he set up Daniel Gazdag two minutes later to send the Philadelphia crowd into bedlam. For the next couple of minutes, it was all Philadelphia Union.
Cory Burke was causing all sorts of problems and scored the third in the 76th minute after making a great run from the middle of the park. His initial shot was blocked, but the ball made its way back into his path, and he made no mistake the second time, thumping the ball into the back of the net.
Andre Blake, who has been phenomenal in goal all season, also made an outstanding save when the score was 2-1 in Philadelphia Union’s favor. This team have had a really ruthless streak all season. They never look like they’re out of the game. There’s always a threat going forward, and they have a goalkeeper who can keep them in the game when they’re on the ropes. LAFC will have to play out of their skin to beat them.
Philadelphia Union had a goal difference of +46 this season. LAFC were the next best in this department with a goal difference of +28. No team scored more goals and conceded fewer than Philadelphia Union in the league. They were also tied on points with LAFC, managing 67 points this season.
But they’ve gone about things differently. They aren’t a side that need lots of the ball to be dangerous, as the last game proved, but it’s not like they aren’t deadly when they have lots of the ball.
Their underlying stats reveal that they were probably the second-best team in the league, behind LAFCA, as far as performances were concerned. Andre Blake has been heroic in front of the goal, but the defense has also been top throughout. Only CF Montreal and LAFC had better expected goal-against numbers.
That extra bit of quality that the best teams have has shown through for Philadelphia Union, and that’s often the difference in big games. They’ll need the likes of Gazdag, Carranza, and Blake to show up one last time this season.
The first couple of minutes will be crucial to this tie. LAFC, with the home fans, will certainly be the more likely to take the game to the opposition. The same happened in their last meeting. Philadelphia Union will have to withstand this and perhaps look for transition opportunities early in the game.
They have the quality up top in Wagner, Uhre, Gazdag, and Carranza to punish any defensive lapse. The longer the game goes on without LAFC being able to impose their game, the more it’ll play into Philadelphia Unions’ hands. They’re an excellent side, but they’re not going to be the favorites to win this match. There will be more spotlight on LAFC in this fixture, and Philadelphia Union have to take advantage of that.
There should be a lot of quality and drama on show in one of the most highly-anticipated MLS Cup finals in years.
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Teams: Los Angeles FC vs Philadelphia Union
Location: Banc of California Stadium
Time: Saturday, November 5 at 9 pm ET onwards
How to watch: FOX, UniMas, TSN4, and TVA Sports
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Varun is a web journalist who has been writing on sports for 13 years. He took a shine for the MLS during the 2021 season and has been following it and writing about it since, alongside his work involving the English Premier League, La Liga, and the Serie A. He is deeply interested in soccer analytics and strategy and has aspirations to move into coaching at some point. Email: [email protected]More info on Varun Shetty
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