LAFC hosts Philadelphia Union in CCL Semifinal

LAFC, on the verge of their second CCL final in four years, host MLS rival Philadelphia Union in the second leg of the 2023 CONCACAF Champions League semifinal Tuesday.

LOS ANGELES — LAFC, on the verge of their second CCL final in four years, host MLS rival Philadelphia Union in the second leg of the 2023 CONCACAF Champions League semifinal Tuesday at BMO Stadium before they can advance. Unsurprisingly, the series is currently tied at 1-1.

The two sides have faced each other just six times since 2018, but in that short history, have cemented their unlikely rivalry into a gripping one founded in equality and respect. While the teams rarely win – five of their six matches were draws – LAFC soccer fans have had the advantage, because those five have been memorable come-from-behind draws for the Black and Gold – the most memorable one was the MLS Cup Final in 2022 which ended in LAFC winning the coveted MLS Cup title in PKs.

LAFC co-president and general manager John Thorrington embraces the rivalry and expounds, “It happened not just because of the places in the standings and what have you, but also you have these moments culminating in MLS Cup [2022] and in years past where we’ve had great battles against them. I’m sure, despite the fact the competition is different, it’s a high-stakes game. We’re really looking forward to the test that Philly presents to our group.”

The only time LAFC has outright beat Philadelphia in regular time was their first meeting in 2018 when Adama Diomande scored a hat trick which sent the hosts to a resounding 4-1 victory. Since then, the two have battled to draws. First, in 2019 at Subaru Park when Philadelphia scored first in the 3rd minute, when it took another 40 minutes till Carlos Vela to notch the equalizer.

The 2020 rendition of their matchup helped fuel the simmering rivalry and ended with each side grabbing three goals. In back-and-forth action, each time Philadelphia took the lead, LAFC would answer with their own. The first 2022 version of the meeting between the Union and LAFC ended in a 2-2 tie, with the home team in typical LAFC-fashion dominating in possession (67% to 33%) and in shots (22 versus 9). But, once again, in their established pattern, Philly would lead before LAFC would reply with a goal of their own until the final minutes of the match.

The last and arguably best of this east versus west competition hit its peak in the 2022 MLS Cup Final with injuries, equally aggressive attacking-styles of play from both teams, Gareth Bales’ legendary header, and PKs that ended with LAFC lifting the trophy but Philadelphia forever arguing they had deserved it more. No one could ask for more in a Final. No one could ask for more in a rivalry. Yet less than half a year later, we have been gifted not just one, but two more matches thanks to CONCACAF.

Last week, Philadelphia hosted LAFC to their latest draw in which Union’s Daniel Gazdag scored his third goal of the rivalry, becoming the highest scoring current player in the series (Kellyn Acosta and Carlos Vela each have 2). LAFC are on an 8-match unbeaten run through all competitions and have CCL’s Golden Boot race leader Dénís Bouanga, with five CCL goals this season, in their arsenal.

Technically LAFC could advance with a 0-0 draw. As for the Union, they need a 2-2 draw or more goals because of the CCL away-goals rule and are currently at not only disadvantaged by being on enemy territory at BMO stadium (LAFC have a 5W-1L home record this year) but also are missing defensive midfielder José Martínez due to a hamstring injury.

There are high stakes for both teams – LAFC are looking to prove they are capable of mounting a deep run at more than just MLS trophies, while Philadelphia Union’s long-standing coach Jim Curtin, is aiming to lead the Union to their first non-Supporters Shield trophy. Both clubs wish to join Seattle Sounders by becoming the next MLS team to win the CCL title.