When Philadelphia Union come to LAFC, there are always fireworks. In 2020, the world learned about El Brujo Martinez in the midfield and the rocket of a leg that Jakob Glesnes possesses. Two years later, Julian Carranza showed his ability to score with zero space with a curler into the upper 90. With a pair of amazing matches in their past, the 2022 MLS Cup was a match befitting of Hollywood script writers.
The visitors: a team that is the fullest embodiment of the city on their badge led by a hometown coach. The home side dressed in all black and filled with names that might end up on any fantasy soccer squad.
Twice the hosts gained the lead and celebrated. First a set piece goal from Kellyn Acosta that crashed off a Union homegrown and snuck in. The second a set piece header finished off by Jesus David Murillo off the foot of Carlos Vela.
Twice the visitors battled back with remarkable poise from a pair of snubbed players. Daniel Gazdag, the leading scorer on a roster full of Best XI selections times his run to finish off a pass from Martinez. The second equalizer from Jack Elliott with a perfectly placed header off a free kick from Kai Wagner.
Unlike the previous two matches, a tie couldn’t be the end result. A winner would need to be decided. Back and forth in extra time both sides went. This time the Union getting a goal in the 124th minute for Elliott. Moments later, LAFC would return the tying favor with a goal from Gareth Bale which would see 2022 Referee of the Year Ismail Elfath blow his whistle and send the game to penalty kicks.
In the end, the writers had the kid from Philly in goal for LAFC as the hero and John McCarthy made two saves in penalty kicks to give the home side its first MLS Cup and MLS Cup MVP honors.
How it Went
A loud Banc of California Stadium set the stage for the 2022 MLS Cup with the home crowding trying to rattle the Eastern Conference Champion Union. Andre Blake was vocal and snatched out of the air an early cross from LAFC to set the tone. With a congested midfield, the Union attack early on came from the wings with the Union earning the first corner of the afternoon after Jose Martinez sent a ball out wide to right back Olvier Mbaizo.
In the 11th minute, LAFC’s starts got into the attack with Carlos Vela sending a world class curler just over the crossbar. Moments later Jack Elliott was in the referee’s book with a yellow card in the 14th minute that saw Vela attempt a free kick that was caught by Blake.
In the 26th minute the aggressive style of the Union were tested as Jose Martinez sought to end a quick attack from LAFC and conceded a foul at the top of the box. The foul proved costly as the hosts opened the scoring on the next play via a Kellyn Acosta free kick strike. Vela stood over the ball and Andre Blake build the defensive wall for the right-footed forward. A fake by the forward saw Acosta have a go with his left as it crashed off Jack McGlynn and inside the post.
The Union found itself with some déjà vu in the 38th minute when Vela drew a foul after battling Kai Wagner and Jakob Glesnes. This time around it was Vela joined by Cristian Arango as potential takers with Arango firing a shot that crashed off the wall. Vela quickly regained possession and sent a World Class floated volley into the box for Diego Palacios but his shot was blocked by the three-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.
Save | Blake with a key stop
Just like in the Eastern Conference Final, the big stop by Blake got the Union’s energy going and nearly turned into a repeat performance in the 43rd minute. Carranza gained possession in a favorable spot in the middle of the park after a bad pass from LAFC and quick went into attack mode. With a 2v2 set up, Carranza threaded a pass that sent Mikael Uhre into the box but the Dane would see his chance ended with a combination stop by the keeper and Sebastien Ibeagha. The ball spilled out for Carranza but a reaction tackle by Acosta prevent the potential equalizer with a clearance.
Before the two sides hit the locker room, LAFC tried once more to double its advantage with Arango bodying out the Defender of the Year to open up a space for a shot but homegrown Jack McGlynn came up with a diving block to keep it from reaching the Union net.
With 45 minutes remaining in regulation and a trophy on the line, the tension was raised to a new level in the second half. Defender of the Year Jakob Glesnes showed why he was the recipient with a huge block on Arango in the 50th minute.
The Union looked to play long after the play with Uhre making a long run to the touch line but seeing his pass intended for Carranza off the mark. That run was just a test as the Union went to it again and won a corner in the 58th minute.
Set pieces have been an area of pride for the Union in 2022 and that dedication to perfect it paid off on the biggest stage in MLS. Wagner served up a cross that was headed clear by LAFC’s Jesus Murillo that right to a pair of Union players. The ball ended up with Jose Martinez who unleased not a shot but a pass to leading goalscorer Daniel Gazdag. Held onside by LAFC, the Hungarian coolly with a right-footed finish to level the contest.
Gazdag times his run, levels the 2022 MLS Cup!
With a goal in their sail, the Union looked to take the lead with another run by Uhre into the box but the LAFC defense recovered. Jim Curtin turned to his bench in the 71st minute bringing on 2022 super substitute Cory Burke in place for the Danish forward. Five minutes after the change, Gazdag was on the hunt for his second goal of the afternoon as he nearly tracked down an arrent back pass that forced LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau into a race to secure the ball before the Union midfielder got a tap in.
The scramble proved a big moment as LAFC took momentum and went into the attack. Going down the right side, Wagner was forced into a key slide tackle to set up a corner kick for LAFC. Vela once again was the maestro as he put the home side back into the lead with a corner kick cross that connected with Jesus David Murillo to send Banc of California Stadium into the stratosphere in the 83rd minute.
Just like the city they represent, the Union didn’t hang their heads despite the 5231’s massive celebration behind them. Instead they used it to power them on as they’d trail for only two minutes. Leon Flach earned a free kick opportunity for the Boys in Blue after being fouled by José Cifuentes. Give Philly a shot and they always make the most of it and the Union did as Wagner floated a cross that Jack Elliott headed home to silence the crowd that had a celebration snatched from their grasp.
Elliott makes it 2-2 with a smashing header late!
The extra frames added even more drama to the final Major League Soccer that didn’t seem imaginable. After a gritty opening 15 minutes of extra time, the second got started with Cory Burke looking in on goal only to be taken down by the keeper. After a lengthy stoppage, LAFC was down to 10 men and forced to bring in former Union goalkeeper John McCarthy. The Union took advantage on the ensuing play, as Jack Elliott tapped home his second goal of the afternoon to put the Boys in Blue on the edge of a trophy.
Elliott gets a MLS Cup brace!
With their backs against the wall, LAFC turn to their biggest international signing in Gareth Bale who headed home a cross from Palacios just before the final whistle.
In penalty kicks, LAFC would emerge victorious with two saves from McCarthy which topped Blake’s opening save to lift the trophy.