LOS ANGELES – A Hollywood screenwriter couldn’t have dreamed up MLS Cup 2022 any better.
LAFC are top of the league, emerging as first-time champions from Saturday’s epic championship match at Banc of California Stadium, beating the Philadelphia Union on penalty kicks after a 3-3 draw for the ages – and also making the hosts the first team to complete a Cup-Supporters’ Shield double since Toronto FC in 2017.
Gareth Bale’s thunderous 128th-minute equalizing header sent the game into penalty kicks, showing exactly why the Black & Gold signed the superstar forward this summer as he left Real Madrid. That canceled out a possible man-of-the-match performance from Philly center back Jack Elliott, whose first equalizer booked extra frames, and then his go-ahead 124th-minute strike pushed the Union on the verge of a first MLS Cup trophy.
But Bale came up huge with the final whistle nearing, and back-up goalkeeper John McCarthy took the hero’s cape in the PK shootout by saving two Union efforts – from Jose Martinez and Kai Wagner – after Daniel Gazdag sent the Eastern Conference champions’ first attempt over the crossbar.
LAFC first got scores from Denis Bouanga and Ryan Hollingshead in PKs, then Ilie Sanchez’s game-winner from the spot sealed a 3-0 advantage for the Black & Gold from 12 yards out. From there, celebrations ensued for the Western Conference champions before their 3252 supporters' section – all in a final that pitted the league’s top two teams against each other for the first time since 2003.
But the storyline, among many, might be McCarthy. The Philadelphia native and former Union goalkeeper was subbed on in the 117th minute after LAFC’s starting goalkeeper, Maxime Crepeau was shown a red card when a Video Review decision reduced the hosts to 10 men. Crepeau also got hurt on the play, suffering a serious-looking leg injury after colliding with Philly forward Cory Burke following an under-hit back-pass; referee Ismail Elfath originally brandished a yellow card that was later upgraded.
All that drama was just during extra time and PKs, as the game reached a new level with each passing period. LAFC midfielder Kellyn Acosta (deflected free kick) and defender Jesus Murillo (corner-kick header) both scored during regulation time, and the Union equalized each time via Gazdag (near-range shot) and Elliott (free-kick header) to make it 2-2.
From there, the Tinseltown effect took over – Elliott’s almost-winner, Bale’s towering header and McCarthy’s PK heroics – to cap an MLS Cup Final that can only be called legendary.
- THE BIG PICTURE: Where to even start? LAFC assembled arguably the most talented roster in MLS history this year, and they followed through with not one (Supporters’ Shield) but two (MLS Cup) trophies. Philadelphia have been a club on the rise for years, but their season ends in the most heartbreaking fashion possible. Advantage to the hosts, in what’s surely the greatest MLS Cup in the league’s 27-year history.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Gareth. Freaking. Bale.
Gareth Bale forces PKs with insane MLS Cup goal!
- MAN OF THE MATCH: Put John McCarthy on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The backup goalkeeper is the 2022 MLS Cup MVP presented by Audi, entering the game in the second extra-time period and then dominating in PKs.
WATCH: What a finish! LAFC win wild PK shootout to claim MLS Cup 2022!
- LAFC: End of 2022 season
- PHI: End of 2022 season