LAFC or Philadelphia Union: Whose legacy is more at stake in CCL?

LAFC-Philly 5.2.23 Extratime

Roughly six months ago, LAFC joined an esteemed group by completing the eighth MLS Cup-Supporters’ Shield double in league history.

Tuesday night at BMO Stadium, hosting the Philadelphia Union in leg two of their Concacaf Champions League semifinal series (10 pm ET | FS1, TUDN), they can move closer to a tier of their own.

Extratime’s Matt Doyle explained the stakes as the Black & Gold pursue continental glory, mentioning the 2017-18 Toronto FC teams as the par excellence everyone is compared to.

“That is still the gold standard for MLS, but what LAFC did last year in winning the Shield and then winning the Cup, doing the double, and then if they follow up with actually winning CCL, they go down as the team,” said Doyle. “They go down as the first team we talk about in the legacy in the overall history of MLS, they’re number one.”

That Toronto FC squad, led by now-LA Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney, completed a treble in 2017 by winning MLS Cup, the Shield and the Canadian Championship. Then in the following season’s CCL, they lost to Liga MX’s Chivas on penalty kicks after the two-legged final was deadlocked on a 3-3 aggregate.

LAFC are only halfway through their CCL semifinal series with Philadelphia, taking an away-goals lead into the home leg after a 1-1 draw at Subaru Park last week. And should they advance, another daunting task awaits in either Liga MX’s Tigres UANL or Club León across two legs in late May and early June.

As this all unfolds, Extratime’s David Gass framed the legacy conversation through none other than Carlos Vela. The 34-year-old captain, LAFC’s first-ever signing, already has three titles and a 2019 Landon Donovan MLS MVP award to his name. A CCL crown would only underscore the former El Tri star’s reputation regionally.

“I do think for Vela, there’s always going to be an unnecessary conversation with Mexico fans of what his legacy is, what his career is,” Gass said. “Winning Concacaf, I think could shift that. 

“If he brings LAFC over a Tigres in a final and says I didn’t have to go back to Liga MX to prove it, I don’t have to play for the Mexican national team to prove it, I’m the best player in this region, I’ve built the best team in this region, I’m the face of arguably one of the biggest franchises in this region. I think that resets stuff for him.”

Philadelphia certainly aren’t out of the series, as an away goal Tuesday night (without conceding) puts them in the lead and into the next round. And if Jim Curtin’s group completes the spectacular, beating LAFC for the first time in seven tries, then they’re positioned to go the distance and – in MLS big-picture terms – follow up on Seattle Sounders FC’s historic CCL accomplishment in 2022.

“With Philly, we’re talking about them at the level of Seattle where they’re consistently excellent every year,” said Doyle. “They win something every couple of years, and in this case they’d become the second team, literally in Seattle’s footsteps, to win the continental title. Then you add that on top of the identity that you were just talking about with developing and selling. 

“ … That’s a really good legacy. I think they have that whether they win or not. If they’re the champions of freaking Concacaf and they’re going the play in the Club World Cup, it makes it that much easier to talk about as an aspirational thing for other MLS teams.”

If results go the other way, continuing Philly’s history of falling just short in finals, then the conversation differs. They’ve lost three US Open Cup finals since 2014, plus fell to LAFC in MLS Cup last November. They also lost a 2021 CCL semifinal series vs. Liga MX's Club América.

“If I’m going into this game, it’s hard to not think about all the almosts, almost getting that trophy but not being able to collect it,” said Extratime’s Kaylyn Kyle. “That weighs heavy on you. There’s no way you’re thinking of that going into that game. There’s no way you’re not preparing without thinking about that as well. It weighs heavy on players and it mentally drains you, emotionally drains you and when you’re in games it physically does drain you.”

For more Extratime analysis, check out the Matchday 10 wrap-up episode via MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.