LAFC wins the Super Bowl of American Soccer
November 10, 2022
Los Angeles Football Club are the 2022 MLS Cup Champions! LAFC's spectacular victory over Philadelphia Union was a win for the ages. Appropriately, the club earned its first league title in a Hollywood blockbuster shootout at the Banc of California Stadium that immediately secured top billing as Major League Soccer's greatest match. As important, the scintillating match finally elevated the league onto equal footing with the four major sports leagues in the country.
"No doubt this was Major League Soccer at its very best!" declared MLS Commissioner Don Garber before presenting the championship trophy to LAFC's Lead Managing Owner, Larry Berg and team captain Carlos Vela. "The two top seeds made it for the first time in 20 years, creating the greatest game that we've had in our history!" He continued: "A shoutout to The 3252! You brought it every single week, creating an environment that is unparalleled in professional sports." The 3252 are a group of loyal fans that cheer throughout the whole game.
The twists and turns of the match were worthy of any Oscar Award-winning script. The seesaw battle on the pitch that featured LAFC twice taking the lead, each followed by Philadelphia striking to equalize the score, to the Union seemingly stealing the lead and the MLS Cup with minutes remaining in extra time, before international superstar Gareth Bale saved the day with a brilliant header just before the final whistle, elevating the match into its final thrilling crescendo.
Bale's title-saving shot is the kind of magic that makes legends. Four minutes after Jack Elliot's second goal in the 124th minute appeared to give Philadelphia the title, his delivery off a perfect goal line pass from Diego Palacios past Union goalkeeper Andre Blake literally brought the Banc down. The entire stadium led by The 3252 Supporters section reveled in a fervor with tears of joy that rivaled the best of any Los Angeles sports celebration the city has witnessed. And the match had yet to be decided. Even the soccer gods were rejoicing.
Bale had this to say, "It's big. It's important for the club. It's important for the fans. Like I said, we were down to 10 men, I guess not really looking like we were going to get anything out of the game. Where it ranks, I'm not too sure but it's a great feeling Yeah, it's special. The reason why I came here was to try and help the club win a trophy, and to win the MLS Cup."
The unlikeliest hero and MVP emerged from the shootout. It was a chapter written in the history books titled: John McCarthy. During the 116th minute of the match in extra time LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau was given a red card for 'professional foul last man'. It was a double whammy for LAFC as Crepeau also fractured his right leg after colliding with the Union's Cory Burke while saving a scoring opportunity outside the penalty box.
Enter McCarthy, who had logged only one start for LAFC during the regular season. Ironically, McCarthy who hails from Philadelphia, began his MLS career and played four seasons with the Union from 2015-2018. Fortunately for the Black & Gold, McCarthy developed as a penalty shot specialist. He never wavered and in fact grew more confident with each attempt during the shootout. Philadelphia never converted on its three attempts despite having the momentum when Blake saved the initial shot attempt from LAFC forward Cristian Tello.
"To be a Philly kid and play against my hometown team, it's their first final, ever, in the MLS Cup, so it's something special," said McCarthy. "I would root for them any day of the week besides today, and I genuinely mean that. There's a lot of good people in that organization, and they mean a lot to me."
"To say that I would hold that thing (MLS Cup MVP trophy), it still doesn't make sense. It doesn't add up. I believed that I would lift a trophy one day. I didn't know when or where but I believe that hard work pays off. If you would have told me that, yeah, I would have said it truly is a dream come true. I hope it does come to. Yeah, I hope my dreams come true."
The shootout took place in front of The 3252 Supporters section, which amped up the final Hollywood ending. Daniel Gazdag plant foot slipped and sent the ball over the crossbar on the Union's first attempt. Next, Dénis Bouanga left corner blast gave LAFC a 1-0 lead. McCarthy then blocked Jose Martinez attempt to the left. Ryan Hollingshead followed placing his score near center net as Blake dived to his right. With the crowd finally sensing victory McCarthy jumped in ecstasy after a diving block on Kai Wagner's shot towards the right corner.
One minute later there was a celebrated explosion that morphed into a blur when Ilie Sanchez punched his kick into the right corner of the goal past a diving Blake. Sanchez raced towards the corner of The 3252 Supporters section in exaltation with his teammates, transforming into the dreamlike ending.
Midfielder Kellyn Acosta gave LAFC a 1-0 lead in the 28th minute into the left corner on a free kick after an initial fake gesture by Vela. Gazdag tied the score for Philadelphia in the 59th minute on an assist by Martinez. The Black & Gold seemed to have clinched the match in the 83rd minute when defender Jesus Murillo scored off of Vela's cross following a corner kick. Yet, two minutes later, Jack Elliot's header off a set piece tied the match at 2-2, setting the stage for the epic finale.
"The game had a little bit of everything for sure. Goals galore. Going up a goal, going down a goal. Scoring in the last minutes of the game. A lot of penalty kicks. It was a roller coaster. It was craziness" reflected Acosta, who has 53 appearances for the U.S. National Men's team. "It was an incredible game. And shout out to Gareth's big goal. John McCarthy coming up big. We wish Maxime Crépeau a speedy recover. but I just have to shout out to my teammates, the staff, the organization, 3252. It was a collective effort tonight."
Certainly not lost in the hoopla is the ultimate in success that has emerged with LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo, who became the first-year head coach to win MLS Cup since Piotr Nowak did the same for D.C. United in 2004. In only their fifth year of existence LAFC became the sixth club to win both the MLS Cup and the Supporters' Shield in the same season. The L.A. Galaxy and D.C. United have accomplished the feat twice.
"What it means to me? I'm not sure yet," said Cherudolo. "I think I need a few days to process. For me, the goal is always to maximize the potential of this group, and anything short of a Supporters' Shield or MLS Cup for this group with this mentality wouldn't have been enough.
"It was a lot of hard work, but that makes me proud, not the title, per se, but to have a group of individuals to make a team and to create a mentality to come back and go through everything up through today, the emotional roller coaster, that they found a way to come together and win, that's probably what I'm most proud of."
Carlos Vela, the face of Los Angeles Football Club since Day One, acknowledged the significance of LAFC's first championship. "We do something special. I think when you come to L.A., you know how big the city is, how cool the city is, how many clubs, basketball, baseball, NFL, makes championships in the city, so I said, 'Why not us? Why can't I be there, (with) the level of the big names of the city?" Certainly for LAFC and The 3252, this Hollywood story is only just beginning.
To reach Fred Altieri or the Culver City Observer Sports Department email:firstname.lastname@example.org