Los Angeles Football Club win the Major League Soccer Championship with a dramatic penalty shootout victory over Philadelphia Union. A victory that secures the first championship in the club’s history.

After 130+ minutes, the match ended in a 3-3 draw. Ultimately, Los Angeles defeated Philadelphia 3-0 in a penalty shootout. A standing ovation of 50,000 exuberant fans in Los Angeles celebrated “the greatest MLS match of all time.”

Top Seeds Contest championship game

For the second time in Major League Soccer (MLS) history, the top seeds clashed in the MLS Cup Final: Los Angeles Football Club versus Philadelphia Union – expansion teams that joined the league in 2018 and 2010, respectively.

During the 2022 season, LAFC and Philadelphia faced off once before in an exciting game that mirrored the championship game ending in an epic 2-2 draw.

MLS CUP – Los Angeles Football Club vs. Philadelphia Union

Steve Cherundolo’s 4-3-3 confronted Jim Curtin’s 4-3-1-2 formation.

From the get-go, the ‘dale’ leitmotif reverberated throughout the Banc of California Stadium. Early doors, players jostled in a fight for glory. A vibe that would permeate the entire match.

Defender Ryan Hollingshead lured his opponents with hesitating backsteps, only to pounce after feigning restraint, thus intercepting the ball. Then, Hollingshead charged down the wing as a right back, creating an attack as a box-to-box player.

Further, 6’6″ Englishman Jack Elliott conceded a yellow card for the Union in the 14th minute. Carlos Vela owned his space as a right forward, employing his signature style: dipping in crosses with his dominant left foot.

Both sides secured their third. However, Philadelphia’s kryptonite was the late challenge that resulted in a set-piece for LAFC. In the 27th minute, Vela and Kellyn Acosta lineup for a free kick. In a brilliant display of deception, Acosta scores the dead-ball, 1-0.

Then, in the 42nd minute, the end-to-end action was awe-inspiring. Nigerian American defender Sebastien Ibeagha prevented Philadelphia’s counter with a phenomenal tackle; Acosta followed suit for a clearance. LAFC blitzed, leading to Vela’s breakaway down the flank, assisting Chicho Arango for a shot that barreled over the crossbar.

2nd Half Of Play

In the 59th minute, Philadelphia leveled the score on a set-piece. Then, Daniel Gazdag equalized the match, 1-1. This was his second goal of the season at Banc of California Stadium. The Hungarian ‘attacking midfielder’ was responsible for Philadelphia’s opening goal against LAFC back in May.

Nevertheless, Jesús Murillo proved to be a ‘big-game player;’ his first career MLS goal came in the 83rd minute on a ‘looping header’ off a corner kick, 2-1.

Then, just minutes later, Philadelphia countered with a header off a set piece. Jack Elliott comes through in the clutch, 2-2. At this point, the Union’s two shots on target were capitalized as goals.

Extra Time

Vela dropped deep on two plays with ‘through-balls’ for Denis Bouanga. Then, the Welsh legend Gareth Bale entered the field in the 96th minute as a substitute for the Mexican captain.

Instantly, Bale made his presence known with a ‘chest trap’ followed by a one-touch volley into the box – a missed opportunity created for Jose Cifuentes.

On the other end, Julián Carranza leaped up for a header that went wide of the goalmouth. After that, Cristian Tello countered; the former Barcelona winger cracked a shot from outside the box, saved by goalkeeper Andre Blake.

In the 109th minute, after an egregious ‘back-pass’ by Murillo, goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau charged outside for a ‘one v one’ against the Jamaican forward Cory Burke.

Unfortunately, Crépeau’s bravery caused a collision resulting in grueling injury. As a result, the Canadian goalkeeper was issued a red card and substituted for John McCarthy. Nevertheless, LAFC fans applauded Crépeau’s sacrifice, as he was stretchered off the pitch.

Then, Julián Carranza’s header off a cross was saved instinctually by McCarthy. However, an unmarked Jack Elliott scores a sitter off the deflection, pinning Philadelphia ahead, 3-2.

Finally, LAFC would retaliate. Diego Palacios’ throw-in led to a ‘give & go’ with Ilie Sánchez. Palacios’ rapid dribble to the byline followed with a cross into the box. In ever-dramatic fashion, Gareth Bale – the 6’1″ Welshman – leaped over the 6’6″ Englishman Jack Elliott.

The Welshman extends upward seven feet, burying the ball behind Blake. As a result, Bale pierced a ‘looping header’ into the goalmouth, displaying aerial mobility.

The scores were tied at 3-3 at the end of extra time and the game went to a penalty shootout.

Penalty shootout

As the penalties unfurled in front of the 3252, Philadelphia missed three consecutive attempts; two of which were saved by McCarthy.

However, for the Union, Jose Martinez and Kai Wagner committed the mistake of Cristian Tello: a hesitating stutter-step before the kick.

Using this problematic tactic, a player chooses deception over precision. In other words, they would rather dupe the goalkeeper than rely on confidence.

On the contrary, Bouanga, Hollingshead and Sánchez chose the more reliable strategy: pick a corner and pummel the ball. In other words, the striker is not concerned with the goalkeeper’s dive. Ultimately, Ilie Sánchez killed the shootout, 3-0.

LAFC wins the 2022 MLS Cup, inspiring a doff of the hat. As the team bombarded into a celebratory huddle, John McCarthy was embraced by LAFC’s most underrated player, Ilie Sánchez.

Underrated Player of the game

Since LAFC is stacked with talent, elite players get cast in the shadow of stars. For instance, ‘holding midfielder’ Ilie Sánchez, a brilliant acquisition from LAFC ahead of the 2022 season.

Sánchez has proven to be a ‘deep-lying’ playmaker with a depth of vision, creativity, and passing technique all season.

Further, Ilie’s intelligence quotient of utilizing space with slow possession creates threatening plays for the opposition. After performing remarkably, the Barcelona-born midfielder deserves the glory he earned with LAFC – a team managed to perfection by Steve Cherundolo.

Workload Management

In his debut season as an MLS coach, Steve Cherundolo used a panoply of tactics gained from a tenure in the Bundesliga as a right-back for Hannover 96. As a result, the American boss managed to balance the egos of his studded roster. Further, his unbiased manner toward marquee players revealed a disciplined approach to stabilizing his workload.

However, Cherundolo’s phenomenal management is obscured by the elite players on the pitch, performing for fervent patronage in the stadium. As a result, the tremendous weight a coach must carry goes unnoticed. Especially since a coach has made thousands of decisions before matchday, patiently observing his mastery come to fruition. Rightfully so, the three-time World Cup veteran won the championship in his first year as head coach in Major League Soccer.

Ultimately, it’s not a consensus, but unanimous, that LAFC and their faithful fanbase earned the MLS Cup trophy.

Photo Credit: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire