A legend is born: LAFC's John McCarthy sees "dream come true" in MLS Cup

1105 LAFC John McCarthy Sider

LOS ANGELES – Wait, John McCarthy?

Even the goalkeeper himself could hardly believe what he was experiencing, going from sitting idly as Maxime Crépeau’s backup to being named the MLS Cup 2022 MVP presented by Audi.

But that’s life between the sticks sometimes, moving quickly from the bench into the spotlight. And boy did the veteran deliver Saturday afternoon, stopping two penalty kicks after a 3-3 draw with the Philadelphia Union – a match he had only entered in the 117th minute after Crépeau suffered a serious leg injury and was shown a red card.

“For you to say that I would hold that [trophy], it still doesn't make sense, it doesn't add up,” McCarthy said postgame at Banc of California Stadium.

“I believed that I would lift a trophy one day. I don't know when or where, but I believe that hard work pays off. If you would have told me that, I would have said it truly is a dream come true.”

McCarthy stressed he’s “absolutely devastated” for Crépeau, who seems likely to miss the World Cup with Canada after a nasty-looking collision with Philly forward Cory Burke – all following an under-hit back-pass from center back Jesús Murillo.

While Crépeau was receiving treatment, driven off the LAFC pitch in a medical cart after being strapped into a stretcher, McCarthy was warming up. He had to immediately get focused, taking his cue from goalkeeper coach Oka Nikolov.

And thus the Hollywood script began: A Philadelphia native, who went to La Salle University before starting his pro career, and who played for the Union from 2015-18, became the moment.

“I wish it was against somebody else, honestly, because I feel for the team and the city because if it was against – if we weren't in there and Philly was in the final, I would for sure root for them,” McCarthy said.

“But to be put in that moment and come on, I just was hoping we find a way to keep it clean and then save a PK and hopefully something good happens.”

McCarthy signed with LAFC this past January in free agency, having last played for Inter Miami CF. He also featured in just two games this year, a regular-season defeat at the Colorado Rapids and a Leagues Cup Showcase clash with Liga MX’s Club America in August – showing signs of great PK instincts in both.

For a player who’s bounced between the USL and MLS, it was his chance to shine.

“Couldn't happen to a better guy,” said LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo. “John is one of the heartbeats of this team emotionally.

“And I think I mentioned yesterday at the press conference, there was a moment in preseason where we found ourselves as a group, and John was right in the middle of that, being a vocal leader for this team, and working very hard all season long and being an amazing No. 2 in disguise.”

Even in defeat, Union head coach Jim Curtin offered lengthy praise for his former player.

“Johnny is a great kid, a Philly kid, a guy that did great things here in Philadelphia,” said Curtin. “Look, soccer gods have a funny way of working. As soon as the injury happened, I started the half-joke with my staff that I can't believe Johnny is going to be in there and this is probably going to go to PKs, or something along those lines when it happened.”

This didn’t occur by happenstance, though. McCarthy was ready for his chance and seized it, achieving LAFC legend status in the process.

“Literally, as I was sitting in the hot tub for pregame warming my body up, I watched a nine-minute clip of PKs,” McCarthy. "I'm not going to say I didn't have some type of idea.

“But I just went with what I thought would be good for the shootout. I'm grateful it worked, I really am. It's a dream.”