Often times in sports, people will lament the playoffs don’t choose a true champion. While upsets make for great drama and television, those results do undermine what happened during the course of the regular season. When it comes to LAFC and the Philadelphia Union, there is little doubt these are the two best teams MLS had to offer this season.
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This MLS Cup final, which is set to be played at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles, is a matchup between two teams ready to plant their flag at the top of the league’s mountaintop. Neither team had made the final before. LAFC has been in the league since 2014, while Philadelphia came in during the 2008 season.
Union stick together
Philadelphia ran its way to the top of the Eastern Conference standings thanks to being an exceptionally well-rounded team. Scoring on the Union is difficult thanks to its backline and goalkeeper. During the regular season, Philadelphia only conceded 26 goals, which was the fewest in the league.
Union goalkeeper Andre Blake broke his own team record by recording 15 clean sheets. He also shut out opponents 12 times in 2021 and 10 times in 2018. Blake, who started all 34 games for Philadelphia, made 100 saves and had an overall save percentage of 79.4 percent.
What made the Union’s season so remarkable is they also led the league in goals scored. Midfielder Daniel Gazdag made a major jump in his second year with the Union. After only scoring four goals last season, he scored a team-high 22 this season.
Julian Carranza (14 goals) and Mikael Uhre (13) have also both scored double digit goals this season.
How Philadelphia got here
The Union survived FC Cincinnati 1-0 in the first round before knocking out defending champion NYCFC 3-1 in the Eastern Conference final.
LAFC ready for shot on big stage
The Black and Gold utilized the transfer window to great effective this offseason. Over the summer, LAFC brought in Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) and Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus) on free transfers to add some players with legitimate European credentials to the mix. Bale has scored twice in 14 appearances.
What has been nice for LAFC is that the Black and Gold have received most of their scoring from established stars. Cristian Arango has a team-high 18 goals in 35 appearances. Carlos Vela has also scored 12 times in 13 games.
What made LAFC special was how many times the Black and Gold were able to have substitutes score goals. Ten times this season, LAFC has put players into the games as substitutes to have them reach the scoresheet. LAFC led the Western Conference by scoring 66 goals.
How LAFC got here
LAFC had to score a stoppage time winner to beat cross-town rival LA Galaxy before taking down Austin FC 3-0 in the Western Conference final.
The Union will also be on the road for the final. LAFC is -125 on the 3-way moneyline, while Philadelphia is +300. The over/under is 2.5 goals.
The Philadelphia Union don’t have the star power LAFC does. The Union are also at the mercy of playing the championship game in Los Angeles. However, Philadelphia can match everything the Black and Gold can.
The Union will ride their edge in net to their first MLS Cup final. Take Philadelphia +300 to win in regulation.