LOS ANGELES -- LAFC won the best, most thrilling MLS Cup in Major League Soccer history on Saturday, beating the Philadelphia Union 3-0 on penalties after the sides completed 120 minutes tied at 3-3. Backup goalkeeper John McCarty, who came on in place of Maxime Crepeau, who'd been red carded and carted off with a nasty-looking injury in the second period of extra-time, made two shootout saves to carry the hosts to a truly Hollywood ending.
Kellyn Acosta put the Angelenos in front on 28 minutes, but the Union stabilized and responded, working their way back into the game and eventually equalizing in the 59th minute through Daniel Gazdag. Jesus Murillo looked to seal a victory for the Black and Gold by scoring the go-ahead goal in the 83rd minute, only for Jack Elliott to make amends for a previously shaky effort by pulling Philadelphia level just two minutes later.
Elliott nearly brought the Cup to Philadelphia, putting the Union in front in the fourth minute of extra-time stoppage-time, only for Gareth Bale to head home yet another equalizer with barely a minute left to play. Once in the shootout, McCarthy shone outperforming Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake by making a pair of saves on Jose Martinez and Kai Wagner to ensure that MLS Cup didn't leave Los Angeles.
1. LAFC pull off Double with instant-classic MLS Cup win
Having lifted the Supporters' Shield at the end of the regular season, LAFC have now secured a Double after winning Saturday's thrilling MLS Cup, becoming just the second team to accomplish the feat in the past 10 years.
Level at 2-2 after the end of regulation, they faced a setback in extra-time due to a horrific-looking injury to goalkeeper Crepeau, who was shown a red for his challenge on Corey Burke before being carted off the pitch. In stepped McCarthy, a 30-year-old backup goalkeeper who last featured for LAFC in a 2-0 loss in May, when he failed to stop two penalties.
On Saturday, though, the 117th-minute substitute made two vital saves in the shootout to carry LAFC to a dramatic 3-0 victory and lift MLS Cup.
2. Union show the fight that's made Philly famous
The visitors were a ball of nerves in the early going. The entire team, and the midfield especially, were often caught out by LAFC's intense press, all too regularly gifting their opponents possession in dangerous areas.
When Acosta opened the scoring in the 28th minute, there was a sense that it could be a long afternoon for the Union. From that point on, though, they worked their way back into the game.
Philadelphia stabilized in the remainder of the first half, and after the interval, they showed a renewed vigor that put them in the ascendancy. While there was an element of fortune in Gazdag's 59th-minute equalizer, receiving a miss-hit Martinez shot from long range, the goal had been coming.
And when LAFC went in front with just seven minutes of the 90 remaining, while Banc of California Stadium may have celebrated like their team had just lifted MLS Cup, there was no quit in Philly. Elliott sent the contest to extra-time just two minutes later.
It was the sort of effort on Saturday that fans of Philadelphia have come to expect from their teams, and then Union delivered -- even if the result may not reflect it.
3. McCarthy is LAFC's unlikely hero
Despite making just his second appearance of the 2022 season, McCarthy will go down in LAFC history. His two saves in the penalty shootout all but ensured that the Los Angeles club won its first MLS Cup.
The 30-year-old was born in Philadelphia, he attended La Salle University in the city and is a former Union player himself. McCarthy was in tears after the final whistle, when he was presented him with the award for the MLS Cup MVP.
There's no lack of star power in LAFC's talent-laden squad. The likes of Bale, Carlos Vela and Giorgio Chiellini call Los Angeles home, but on Saturday, it was a backup goalkeeper with a history in lower-league soccer that was the star of the show in a very Hollywood ending.
LAFC: Maxime Crepeau 6, Ryan Hollingshead 7, Jesus Murillo 7, Sebastien Ibeagha 8, Diego Palacios 5, Ilie Sanchez 8, Jose Cifuentes 6, Kellyn Acosta 8, Cristian Arango 6, Carlos Vela 7, Denis Bouanga 7
Subs: Kwadwo Opoku 6, Cristian Tello 5, Gareth Bale 7, John McCarthy 9
Philadelphia Union: Andre Blake 8, Jack Elliott 7, Jakob Glesnes 7, Kai Wagner 5, Olivier Mbaizo 6, Leon Flach 6, Jose Martinez 5, Jack McGlynn 7, Daniel Gazdag 7, Mikkel Uhre 5, Julian Carranza 6
Subs: Corey Burke 6, Paxten Aaronson 6, Chris Donovan 6
Best and worst performers
LAFC BEST: John McCarthy. Never mind that he allowed a goal just minutes after being substituted in on 117 minutes, McCarthy stepped up when it mattered in the shootout, and is the key reason why LAFC now possess their first MLS Cup.
LAFC WORST: Diego Palacios. The left-back made progress in the final stages of the match, but for the most part, Palacios was a liability and the back line's definitive weak link.
Philadelphia Union BEST: Andre Blake. The Goalkeeper of the Year made several impressive reflex saves, and also served as a calming presence in possession when the outfield players in front of him needed to recycle the ball under intense pressure from LAFC's press.
Philadelphia Union WORST: Jose Martinez. Much of the Philadelphia midfield was guilty of succumbing to nerves in the game's opening exchanges, but Martinez's carelessness in possession regularly put his side on the back foot, and it was his foul that earned LAFC the free kick from which they scored the game's opening goal.
Highlights and notable moments
The scenes at Banc of California, from start to finish, were nothing short of epic. A game that will be remembered in this league for years and years to come.
YOUR 2022 MLS CUP CHAMPIONS 🏆— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 5, 2022
LAFC wins their first MLS Cup title 3-3 (3-0) on penalties 👏 pic.twitter.com/xvpBbZPXEg
After the match: What the players and managers said
Philadelphia manager Jim Curtin: "We didn't have Johnny and Gareth Bale being the ones who did us in today.
"You can have a great season, but the season only ends perfect[ly] for one team of the 28."
Key stats (via ESPN Stats & Info)
- In seven of the past eight MLS Cups, including Saturday, the team that scored first ended up winning the title.
- LAFC scored set-piece goals in each of their three playoff games, tallying five goals, including two on Saturday.
- Saturday was only the fourth time in MLS Cup history when both teams score multiple goals (1996, 2003 and 2004 the only other occasions).
- Gareth Bale's 128th-minute equalizer was the latest goal scored in MLS history.
- LAFC manager Steve Cherundolo is the first coach to win the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup in his first season.