COLUMBUS, Ohio — LAFC face Columbus Crew, who boast the best offensive record in the regular season and playoffs, today, in the 2023 MLS Cup Final. For LAFC, it’s been a long winding road encompassing six often simultaneous trophy-seeking avenues across 52 matches.
They lost the CONCACAF Champions League Finals – their second defeat at the pinnacle match of the inter-league tournament. They were eliminated in the round of 16 in the U.S. Open Cup (to their rivals LA Galaxy). They dropped out of the newly expanded Leagues Cup in the quarterfinal round before losing the Campeones Cup match which could have been a single-match trophy win for them.
After falling to 8th place in the Supporters Shield race, it seemed unlikely that the Black and Gold could reach their current position as Western Conference Champions in their second-straight final with a chance to become the fourth MLS club to win the highest league honor in the history of the league.
LAFC will play a league-high 53rd and final match of the competitive year today. Their very first signing, Carlos Vela, a foundational member of the expansion club, now on his final day of his current contract, beams with pride reflecting on their unprecedented year. “For us to be focusing every single game was tough because in the end when you are playing tournament, you are losing but you want to still be winning. So, it’s a lot of emotion at the same time, and you are tired physically but mentally, you want, but sometimes you can’t. It’s a really battle with, with yourself,” Vela explains.
“And honestly, I’m proud of what we did all season because we lost multiple finals. We are here in the final again. We compete in all the tournaments. I’ve seen in the past like some teams in MLS when they have multiple tournaments, they lose one like really fast. They don’t compete in one to put all the effort in one. We did everything we can in all the tournaments.”
LAFC are heading into their final match on a 7-match unbeaten streak to face two-time MLS Cup champions who have lost just a single home match in their last 29, dating back to August of 2022. The 2022 MLS Cup champions, who played attacking-style soccer since their inception, have subtly added to it, becoming more tacit and deliberate in their scoring and more defensive awareness across the board, a skill their head coach Steve Cherundolo has sharpened since taking on the role at the helm last year. In many ways, infusing a bit of his game intelligence and reliability into his players without forcing deep changes has contributed to helping build a lasting club legacy.
When things looked their darkest in the summer, he revealed no signs of changing course, or losing faith in his team, instead, he reinforced his belief that his team would eventually gel. “We feel very comfortable with the way we play. Everything at our club is aligned,” Cherundolo reflected. “Us doubling down, I think it makes us stronger and gives you a foundation for this for the future.”
A historical consecutive MLS Cup for the young expansion club, a second chance for their goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau to relish a moment he missed as he watched his teammates lift the league’s biggest trophy while he lay in a hospital bed last year, and a storybook club ending for players whose contracts end today, are all on the line. After all, the unlikeliest of stories is what Hollywood dreams are made of.