Los Angeles FC and Philadelphia Union face off on Saturday, as an enthralling MLS season reaches its grand finale.
In a twist of fate, LAFC will have home advantage in the MLS Cup, with the match to be held at the Banc of California Stadium.
LAFC thrashed Austin FC 3-0 in the Western Conference final, while the Union defeated reigning champions New York City FC in the Eastern Conference showpiece.
Now, LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo is aiming to make home advantage count as his team bid to make history.
“It’s an amazing atmosphere here. It makes me feel right at home. It is my home, but my home away from home, my second home here,” said Cherundolo.
“It’s an incredible atmosphere, and you know, this is for the fans and it’s also for everybody at the organization who has worked so hard in the past seven years to put this club and organization on the map, to build it the right way, and for the right reasons: to win for the city and the fans. I think you experienced it tonight. The next game is for L.A. and our fans.”
The Union are also going for their first MLS Cup triumph, with coach Jim Curtin saying on Extratime’s live show: “We’ve come a long way as a club.
“We’ve really grown and taken steps forward each and every year. The achievement of getting to your first MLS Cup, from this group, has been something that I’m incredibly proud of.
“Great team, really fun team to watch. And obviously it sets up for an amazing final (between) what I think are the two best teams in the league, which doesn’t happen often.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Los Angeles FC – Cristian Arango
LAFC have plenty of star players to choose from. Giorgio Chiellini can marshal the defence, and Carlos Vela and Gareth Bale are formidable forwards. Yet it is Cristian Arango who has shone brightest in the playoffs, scoring in both of the team’s previous postseason matches. He now has 32 goals since joining the club in August 2021, 20 more than any of his team-mates in that time.
Philadelphia Union – Andre Blake
Key to the Union’s success has been their stringent defence, and behind that, goalkeeper Andre Blake, who saved 108 of the 135 shots on target he faced this season (80 per cent). Blake is the first goalkeeper since at least 2010 to face 100 or more shots on goal and save at least 80 per cent of them.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Both teams are making their first appearance in MLS Cup. This marks just the fourth time in league history, including the league’s inaugural 1996 season, that both MLS Cup finalists are making their debuts in the showpiece match, following D.C. United vs. LA Galaxy in 1996, Columbus Crew vs. New York Red Bulls in 2008 and Seattle Sounders vs. Toronto FC in 2016.
– LAFC and the Union both finished on 67 points, tied for the most in MLS this season, and the first time the top seeds from both conferences reached MLS Cup since 2003. The combined 1.97 points per match during the regular season is the highest combined average of any pair of MLS Cup finalists in league history and the first time both finalists collected at least 60 points during the regular season.
– LAFC are the ninth team to reach MLS Cup in the year in which they won the Supporters’ Shield, but just the second in the last 11 seasons. Of the previous eight teams to reach MLS Cup after winning the Supporters’ Shield, seven went on to win the final.
– Vela and Latif Blessing are the only current LAFC players to have appeared in all five seasons in the club’s MLS history. Since LAFC joined the league in 2018, Carlos Vela has the most goal contributions (122), second-most goals (71), fifth-most assists (51), most shots (422) and sixth-most chances created (319) of any player in MLS.
– The trio of Daniel Gazdag (23), Julian Carranza (15) and Mikael Uhre (13) have combined to score 51 goals this MLS season (incl. playoffs). Only two trios of teammates in MLS history have combined for more goals in a single season than those three for the Union in 2022: C. Vela, D. Rossi and A. Diomande (63) for LAFC in 2019 and J. Martínez, M. Almiron and H. Villalba (56) for Atlanta United in 2018.