1030 LAFC sider

LOS ANGELES – LAFC have accomplished a fair amount since their 2018 arrival to MLS, but Sunday’s 3-0 Western Conference Final victory over Austin FC at Banc of California Stadium puts the Black & Gold into uncharted territory.

MLS Cup is now coming to LA on Nov. 5 against Eastern Conference champions Philadelphia Union, with hosting rights earned via LAFC’s Supporters’ Shield-winning regular season that afforded them the No. 1 overall seed in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs.

That reality might take some time to set in, but defender Ryan Hollingshead expects a similar spectacle when the league’s title match comes to town.

“It’s huge, it’s the reason that we play,” Hollingshead told MLSsoccer.com right outside a celebratory postgame locker room. “This organization has given us everything we need to succeed on the field, and honestly even off the field. So for us to be able to put it together in that way for the fans here. I mean, they were, again, amazing.”

A comprehensive result

Sunday’s outcome never really felt in doubt with LAFC all over Austin FC from the get-go, hammering shots at Austin goalkeeper Brad Stuver all afternoon. Chicho Arango’s 29th-minute opener opened the floodgates, then Maxi Urruti's own goal and Kwadwo Opoku's late insurance strike sealed the scoreline during the second half.

“I think once we got that first goal, Austin put their heads down and we were able to keep being on the front foot,” midfielder Kellyn Acosta said. “I think for us, Chicho especially, he’s been huge for us all year. We expect him to score one or two goals every game. And when he doesn’t we get pissed at him because we’re just not used to him doing that. But Chicho’s a great guy, and I think collectively the team, we just did a great job of getting in front of goal.”

LAFC's dominant tempo wasn't a given, considering Austin FC’s success against head coach Steve Cherundolo's team during the regular season. The Verde & Black won both matchups between the sides, including a 4-1 rout at Q2 Stadium on Aug. 26.

But Austin didn’t come especially close to replicating the feat, which Hollingshead credited to his team’s clinical execution of the game plan, and the electric atmosphere at the Banc, spearheaded by the club’s notoriously raucous 3252 supporters' group.

“They drive us, the 3252 especially, they’re something special, man,” Hollingshead said. “And every time we step on that field at home especially, we’re excited and honored to play for them. So, to put together that performance in the way that we did it with all the chatter all week about [Austin] beating us in the regular season and us being afraid of them or whatever they were saying – pretty amazing to put them in their place in that sort of way.

"I mean, without stretching, it could have been 7-0, no problem. What a dominant performance from us and I think just, again, it shows what we can be when we play at our best.”

For his part, Arango said he’s simply relishing the opportunity to go all out one more time, this time with the league’s biggest trophy on the line.

“We’re going to bring the same level of intensity, the same level of focus, the same attitude,” the Colombian striker said through a translator postgame. “We must be strong mentally and we have to know that this is a game where we can’t hold back with anything. We have to give it our all.”

Historic opportunity

Hosting an event on the scale of MLS Cup comes with a whole new set of challenges. LAFC, in their fifth year, will embark on a week of preparation when yet another trophy is on the line for their star-studded group.

“I mean it’s LA, so it’s going to be crazy,” Acosta said. “Everyone’s excited. It was a huge game, I mean, for us to be champions we’ve got to be in the Final. We did a tremendous job today and all I know is the week leading up to the game, and the game is going to be crazy.”

Added goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau: "Everybody is content with the win today, the 3-0, but there's still that bubble in our head that is like, job is not done, not satisfied enough. I think the group has the mentality of going all the way."

It also provides LAFC with a chance to join some exclusive company. A victory next Saturday would clinch LAFC the Supporters’ Shield-MLS Cup double, a feat last accomplished by 2017 Toronto FC, widely considered one of the best teams in MLS history.

“From the start that was our goal,” Hollingshead said. “The organization here put together a phenomenal team and throughout the season kept adding big-time pieces, so we knew we had everything we needed to go do something special. There were three trophies on the line for us this year.

"We fell out of Open Cup too early, so it became Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup. Those are the two trophies left to fight for. Securing the Supporters’ Shield is huge, every trophy we can get. And now putting ourselves in a position to go secure MLS Cup at home, it’s pretty spectacular and it’s been so fun to be a part of this.”

Acosta echoed the sentiment, noting LAFC will have to execute at a similarly ruthless level next weekend to lift the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy.

“Obviously people are going to talk about Supporters’ Shield and what we did in the past, but right now it’s the now, which is MLS Cup, so all focus is on that," the US international said. "And it’s going to be a game like this. I think for us to win the game we need to have a similar performance, maybe even better to lift the trophy.

Added Ilie Sanchez, Acosta's midfield partner: "We are very pleased with the game we played and the trophy, but this is not the one we want to have, or not the only one that we want to have. We look forward for the bigger one."

WATCH: Best in the West! LAFC rout Austin for first MLS Cup berth