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What you need to know

Two days until MLS Cup

Saturday. 4 pm ET. Columbus. LAFC. Don’t be late. 

Cincinnati announce end-of-year moves

Two starters – right back Santiago Arias (contract option declined) and midfielder Junior Moreno (out of contract) – are in talks with Cincy about a new deal. There are also discussions with striker Dominique Badji, defender Ray Gaddis and midfielder Yuya Kubo, who all saw their contract option declined. For a full breakdown of all the moves, head here.

Orlando City, Pereyra mutually terminate contract

Orlando City SC and midfielder Mauricio Pereyra have mutually terminated his contract. Pereyra departs with 4g/45a in 114 league games (103 starts). He initially joined the club midway through the 2019 campaign as a Designated Player from Russian Premier League side Krasnodar, helping fuel four straight Audi MLS Cup Playoffs trips and their 2022 US Open Cup title.

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LAFC don't want the ball now

LAFC averaged 51.2% possession in MLS games this year. In last year’s Shield-winning, MLS Cup-winning season, they averaged 51.8%. Both marks are above average in MLS and, in general, indicate a team that wants to have the ball at their feet more often than not.

LAFC’s last two games, two of their biggest of the year, finished with the Black and Gold owning 30% and 29% of each game’s possession total. For reference here, St. Louis, the most “the ball is lava, kick it quickly” team in the league this year, averaged 44.2% possession. We’re off the bell curve here.

So, what happened? Even in their Round One Best-of-3 sweep of Vancouver, LAFC had 50% and 43% possession. Well, part of it is game state. LAFC scored in the 30th minute against Seattle and the 44th minute against Houston. But that only explains some of this. There are a couple of key factors at play here. At least from my outside view.

First and foremost, it clearly works. LAFC’s personnel is set up well to absorb pressure and break at pace in an instant the other way. Having Jesús Murillo and Giorgio Chiellini at center back goes a long way there. It also helps to have an option like Dénis Bouanga just waiting to take off at full speed into space. It feels like Steve Cherundolo and LAFC have really taken a look at themselves in the mirror and asked “What do we have to do to get this done?” The answer for this particular LAFC side seems to be: “Steer as hard as possible into our strengths.”

It might be a necessary choice. Because there are weaknesses with this team. We’ve seen it all year. Partly due to fixture congestion — LAFC are about to set the league record for most games in a calendar year, with 53 — but also because there have been clear flaws in multiple phases of the game. This isn’t 2022. There’s a reason this is being hosted in Columbus and not LA. And there’s a reason Columbus feel like they’ve taken a much more difficult path to this game. LAFC haven’t been at their best and the West as a whole is exponentially weaker in 2023.

We’ve seen issues with LAFC outside of the league as well. They’ve lost four tournament matchups this year. They fell to Club Léon in the CCL Final. They blew a lead to Monterrey in Leagues Cup. They failed to score against Tigres at home in Campeones Cup. And they lost to the Galaxy in the U.S. Open Cup.

There have been plenty of imperfect moments for LAFC this year. And the last couple of games have seemed to be an indication they’re keenly aware of that fact. Instead of attempting to run teams out of the building with overwhelmingly beautiful soccer in a more typically LAFC style, they’ve opted for killer robot levels of pragmatism. There’s a bravery to it. It takes some guts to accept there are flaws and you need to potentially do something drastic to make up for it.

Because even if LAFC win their second straight MLS Cup in a far uglier fashion than last year, no one will care. The merch doesn’t say “Back-to-back MLS Cup Champions, but the second one we kind of won because Ryan Hollingshead knocked in a free kick with his neck and we only had 25% possession against the Crew.” The merch just says “Back-to-back MLS Cup Champions.” If they pull this off and do it on their terms, it’s going to be a remarkable accomplishment.

Other things

Vancouver Whitecaps re-sign Berhalter

Vancouver Whitecaps FC have re-signed midfielder Sebastian Berhalter through the 2025 MLS season with an option for 2026, the club announced Wednesday. Berhalter, who was out of contract after the 2023 MLS season, is coming off a career year in Vancouver. He tallied 2g/2a in 28 regular-season games (11 starts).

2024 MLS Match Ball unveiled

Major League Soccer and adidas have unveiled the 2024 MLS Official Match Ball. Inspired by the 30th anniversary of the 1994 FIFA World Cup held in the United States, the ball channels vibrant 90s-inspired colors for the upcoming season. Roll back the clock and celebrate the year that birthed MLS – a time full of iconic jerseys, denim on denim and neon.

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Good luck out there. Stand out amongst your peers.