In the 2022 season, Austin outscored LAFC 6-2. Despite the Texas capital’s pair of victories over the black & gold, Los Verdes entered the Western Conference Final as overwhelming underdogs. LAFC and Austin went head-to-head with a spot in the MLS Cup Final on the line.
On Sunday, former USMNT teammates Steve Cherundolo and Josh Wolff faced off as managers. Ultimately, LAFC shutout Austin 3-0, securing a golden ticket to the championship game.
LAFC qualifies for MLS Cup Final
As expected, tension caused both sides to have an antagonistic attitude. Cherundolo entered the match with a signature 4-3-3 versus Wolff’s compact 4-2-3-1 formation. Frequently, Austin morphed into a 4-5-1 as they desperately held their defensive shape.
Early doors, both defenses were quick to employ clearances. Neither team fiddled with the risk of maintaining possession in their own third. Compatriots Jose Cifuentes and Diego Palacios engaged in tag-team plays. Together, they had a ubiquitous presence on the field. Further, Kellyn Acosta put constant pressure on Austin, finding Chicho for LAFC’s first shot on target.
Both sides quickly turnover the ball, highlighting the compact defensive strategy. Then, Carlos Vela set up Denis Bouanga for a breakaway down the flank. Unfortunately, the Frenchman was too quick on the dribble.
Giorgio Chiellini displayed the Hollywood pass, putting backspin on floating long balls. Then, Acosta heaved a set piece with a spinning curl over the crossbar. Defensively, the USMNT midfielder was a strong shield in front of center backs Chiellini and Jesús Murillo.
Then, a horizontal hold-up play led to a through ball. Cifuentes made a diagonal run, a play that wreaks havoc on the oppositions transitional defense. Unfortunately, the Ecuadorian missed a brilliant opportunity; preferring power over finesse with an over-the-laces shot. As a result, the ball bounced off the woodwork.
Ultimately, captain Carlos Vela found his groove. Specifically, a long ball controlled impeccably by the Mexican mainstay, yielded a shot and necessary save by Stuver.
Austin FC’s wall broken
Finally, Bouanga’s diagonal run whipsawed Austin’s backline, creating space for a shot inside the box. He hesitated with an extra touch. However, the deflection that led to a corner kick was a blessing in disguise. Vela’s dead-ball cross finds the nod of Chicho, a header boomerangs off the net, 1-0.
2nd Half of Play
The aerial playmaking continued, as the ball rarely stayed level with the grass. As a result of this style of play, there were constant turnovers. As LAFC held possession, they stretched players across the field. Austin became susceptible to through balls that pierce across central gaps
created by expansive playmaking. LAFC continued to utilize the width, creating space for hold- up plays. As a result, strikers made vertical runs through holes in Austin’s defense.
LAFC forced Sebastián Driussi to vanish, irretrievable by Los Verdes. The Argentine striker has been Austin’s silver-bullet since 2021, scoring thirty goals in two seasons. Driussi’s absence on the field was less about the midfielder’s inability and more about Cherundolo’s man-marking strategy.
LAFC progressed the ball through thirds with positional play, utilizing a diamond passing hybrid. Then, Chicho broke away rapidly, a soft pass intended for Vela.
LAFC polishes Austin FC off
Unfortunately for Austin, head coach Wolff took a tactical gambit with substitute Maxi Urruti, who committed a ‘howler’ by conceding an ‘own goal’ off Vela’s corner kick, 2-0.
Ultimately, Steve Cherundolo delivered the death blow, substituting the fresh legs of Mahala Opoku. Finally, Opoku killed the game; the Ghanaian striker capitalized on an unobtrusive deflection from the flank, followed by an adroit invasion of space where Opoku slots the ball into the near post, 3-0.
At the final whistle, Austin had one shot on target. The hosts had 10.
Unofficial Player of the Game: The 3252
In the first half, Giorgio Chiellini displayed his robust, confrontational style of play. Moreover, his man-marking is deep-seated in ‘door-bolt’ tactics – a paragon of ‘catenaccio’. Frequently reminiscent of Franco Baresi – a legendary defender who kept opponents in his pocket for the entire match. Baresi was the prototypical example of Arrigo Sacchi’s innovation. Like Baresi, Chiellini incorporates defense into a hybrid attack.
Ahead of the match, Chiellini offered his sentiment that LAFC must “imagine lifting the trophy and give 100%, with the help of our fans,”
LAFC basked on home field, jangling the nerves of ATX fans in attendance. Banc of California Stadium – a fortress in the heart of Los Angeles – permeated in swaths of black & gold. The 3252 sanctum – a menagerie of feverish fanatics – roared through a hubbub of ineffable energy. The faithful cohort thrummed a propulsive rhythm throughout the match.
LAFC hosts MLS Cup Final
LAFC won the Supporters Shield this season, making the 3252 the path to MLS glory. Now, those boisterous fans have the opportunity to watch their club lift a first championship in their own stadium.
However, the opponent is the top team from the east. Philadelphia Union defeated the defending champions, New York City FC, by a scoreline of 3-1. Philadelphia’s second-half surge of three goals in an 11-minute span saw off NYCFC.
That home-field is a big deal, too. LAFC was strong at home in this campaign. The club picked up 13 wins, two draws and just two losses. However, Philadelphia was even more dominant at home in the regular season. The Union went undefeated with 12 wins and five draws.
The MLS Eastern Conference champions battle the Western Conference Champions on Saturday, Nov. 5. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. ET with coverage available on FOX.
PHOTO: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire
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