LOS ANGELES — LAFC won its first MLS Cup title, defeating the Philadelphia Union 3-0 on penalty kicks after a thrilling finale at Banc of California Stadium on Saturday ended 3-3 after extra time.
Substitute goalkeeper John McCarthy, in just his second appearance for the club, was LAFC’s hero, coming off the bench late in extra time and saving two penalties in the shootout against his hometown club.
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Just minutes earlier, Philadelphia appeared to have clinched the trophy for the first time when Jack Elliott scored his second goal of the game from close range late in overtime. By that point, LAFC had been reduced to 10 men after a red card for goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau minutes earlier.
But Wales star Gareth Bale, who came off the bench in extra time, miraculously equalized for LAFC in the 128th minute with the latest goal in MLS history.
This followed a similarly breathless end to regulation time.
Jesus Murillo put LAFC up 2-1 with seven minutes remaining in regulation, but Philadelphia equalized almost immediately with Elliott’s first goal.
All four goals in regulation time came from set pieces, with Kellyn Acosta giving LAFC a 27th-minute lead with a deflected free kick before Daniel Gazdag equalized for the Union after a half-cleared corner kick .
The result means that LAFC become the first team since Toronto FC in 2017 to win the Supporters’ Shield, as the best team of the regular season, and the MLS Cup. Saturday marked the first time since 2003 that the No. 1 in the Eastern and Western conferences faced off in the MLS premiership.
Midfielder Ilie Sanchez scored the winning penalty for LAFC in the shootout, following successful efforts from Denis Bouanga and Ryan Hollingshead. Philadelphia failed to find the net from the spot, with McCarthy diving to deny Jose Martinez and Kai Wagner, and Gazdag slipped and sent his effort high over the bar.
“For the first 10, 15 minutes, it was a Halloween movie,” Carlos Vela said of watching from the bench after being replaced by Bale in the 97th minute. “And then we end up with a Hollywood movie.”
A few hours earlier, the game had begun with little hint of the thrilling ride to come.
However, there was more than an element of luck to the game’s opening goal in the 28th minute.
Martinez, always alive to the edge in Philadelphia’s midfield, conceded a reckless foul just over 20 yards from goal and was made to pay when Acosta’s right-footed effort took a nasty deflection off Jack McGlynn’s head and into the wall of the Union and the left goalkeeper. Andre Blake was blocked as he found the corner of the net.
The tempo of the game picked up almost immediately as LAFC sensed a chance to extend their lead before halftime. As he has done so often this season, Blake came up big to keep Philadelphia alive, blocking from the penalty spot to deny Diego Palacio’s volley.
Philadelphia finally created a chance of their own in the 43rd minute, only for a sensational last-ditch challenge from LAFC’s fourth-choice centre-back Sebastien Ibeagha, coming on for Giorgio Chiellini, to stripped of the ball from Mikkel Uhre while he was holding. down at the gate.
Despite being a goal down at half-time in a cauldron-like atmosphere on the road, the Union were not deterred. Within 15 minutes of the second half, the game was tied.
Again the goal came from a first kick and again there was an element of luck. Martinez also got involved again. This time his ambitious shot from a corner kick towards him, more than 35 yards out, went perfectly into the path of Gazdag, who turned expertly 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 rose once again to encourage their side to find a winner.
However, no one could have predicted how dramatic the finale would become.
Breathless action started in the 83rd minute. Murillo rose higher at the near post to square Blake from captain Vela’s spot in the swinging corner just in front of the LAFC supporters section as he erupted in anticipation of the trophy standing in LA.
The joy would last less than two minutes. Another set piece and poorer defending allowed Elliott to meet a free kick from Wagner and beat Crepeau despite the LAFC keeper getting a hand on him.
Crepeau’s real place in the drama was yet to come. With 110 minutes on the clock, the Canada international raced out of his box to try to prevent Union striker Cory Burke from getting on the end of a short back pass. But in doing so, he cost himself a red card, following a VAR review, and suffered a serious leg injury that required minutes of treatment and a stretcher to carry him off the field.
For Crepeau, the injury is also likely to spell the end of his World Cup hopes.
“I saw his face and we saw his emotion,” said McCarthy, who won the MLS Cup MVP award. “For me, this is the game of the game. If he slips and misses, then it’s 3-2 and who knows how the game will end.
“He made a big decision going out and playing that game. I’m devastated for him because it’s a serious injury and it looks like he’s going to miss the World Cup. You don’t come out of this game for a Band “Aid.”
When Elliott put the Union ahead for the first time in the 124th minute, there seemed to be no way back for the hosts, even though the fans who have made Banc of California one of MLS’ best venues since the team’s arrival in the league. in 2018 he tried to encourage them once again.
However, with a superstar like Bale on the pitch, there is always a chance.
And the 33-year-old, who has played sparingly since joining Real Madrid in the summer, more than lived up to his hype with an equalizer that, combined with McCarthy’s saves, will live long in LAFC history .
“This place deserves this,” said first-year coach Steve Cherundolo, who engineered the turnaround from a team that missed the postseason last year. “These fans are amazing. They deserve a Cup and they got it.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.