The Philadelphia Union are just one day away from playing in their first-ever MLS Cup! They’ve been in Los Angeles all week preparing, talking to the media, and enjoying the ambiance of Cup week. Their opponent LAFC is also in MLS Cup for the first team, and they get to play at home. The two best teams in MLS Face off in MLS Cup who will be able to win it?
Union vs LAFC for a chance to be Champions of MLS
Philly and Los Angeles have been the two best teams in MLS in 2022, and both were able to break the 1-seed curse and win in the playoffs to make MLS Cup. There are so many storylines about this match, but some stick out as the important things to know before the game, and to look for in the match.
Here are five things to watch for ahead of the 2022 MLS Cup final between the Philadelphia Union and LAFC!
1. First time two 1-seeds meet in MLS Cup since 2003!
The MLS Cup Playoffs breed chaos. We’ve seen over the past few years of single-elimination format that the teams that get the 1-seed in either conference have almost a disadvantage. There’s a long bye between the end of the regular season and the second round of the playoffs that has hurt the top teams in MLS. That was not the case in 2022. Philly beat Cincinnati and NYCFC, and LAFC beat LA Galaxy and Austin FC to get to MLS Cup.
This is the first time that two number-one seeds have made MLS Cup since 2003. Chicago Fire (with the player version of Jim Curtin on their roster) went up against San Jose Earthquakes. It’s been 20 years since the two top teams in MLS square off. Philly and LAFC are most definitely the top two teams in MLS this year they both finished with 67 points, to top the league.
LAFC won the tiebreaker with more wins on the season; Philly missed out on lifting the Supporters’ Shield, but they had few losses, and a much better goal differential than Los Angeles, could this factor into how the MLS Cup plays out?
2. LAFC’s top attack vs Union’s elite defense
LAFC had a top attack in MLS. They didn’t score the most goals in MLS this season, but the star power and quality they have on their team are top-notch.
Denis Bouanga, Christian Arango, and Carlos Vela lead the line for LAFC; they’re all dynamic and can hurt you in different ways in the attack. Their midfield is also dangerous with Cifuentes and Acosta providing great service and being good options for late runs into the box. Add to that the attacking subs of Kwadwo Opoku, Cristian Tello, and Gareth Bale, and the LAFC attack shows its quality. It’s up to the Union’s elite defense to keep them in check in the biggest game of the season!
Philly’s defense is led by the three-time goalkeeper of the year and best XI player Andre Blake. In front of him, there’s the runner-up for defender of the year and best XI player Kai Wagner, one of the most underrated center backs of all time Jack Elliot, the defender of the year and best XI player Jakob Glesnes, and a Cameronian international looking to make a World Cup roster in Oliver Mbaizo. They only allowed 26 goals all season, and now are looking to carry Philly to a championship.
Statistically speaking, the 2022 Union has the second-best defense in MLS history. They’re an all-time great and will need to be great for Philly to win the Cup, but the offense will need to match their greatness.
3. Union’s world-beating attack vs a shakey LAFC back four
The flip side of the spectrum shows a Union attack that’s been labeled as world-beating. Philly scored 76 goals in 2022 that’s six more than LAFC who had the second-most goals in the league. In years past we have seen how the Philadelphia lackluster attack has crippled the team in big moments. Now, the attack is firing on all cylinders and could be facing a pieced-together LAFC backline.
Philadelphia’s attack of Uhre, Carranza, and Gazdag scored 49 of the team’s 76 goals. Philly turned a front three that was unable to connect with each other in years past into one that loves to work together to give the team a goal. Not one of the front three care who scores as long as the team gets a goal that could make the difference to win. These players will be vital to the Union’s title hopes on Saturday, and they will mostly be attacking players who aren’t LAFC’s first choice of defenders.
LAFC’s outside backs, Ryan Hollingshead and Diego Palacios are the normal starters, but their center backs are not. Los Angeles has turned to 38-year-old Giorgio Chiellini to anchor their backline, next to Jesus Murillo. Chiellini is in for injured center back Eddie Segura, who’s injured, but Chiellini has injury concerns of his own.
This means Philly might see fourth-string center back Sebastien Ibeagha. If that happens Philly’s attack will be salivating at the opportunity to attack them as the match progresses.
4. Jim Curtin’s substitution tactics
Union head coach Jim Curtin and his substitution tactics are something to watch for sure in this match. Things will hardly be a shock as Curtin has his XI very much set when injuries aren’t a concern. He then relies on a few subs to be his game-changers, and they’ll likely play that role in MLS Cup.
Jack McGlynn and Cory Burke have been consistently coming off the bench to close out the year for Philly. McGlynn changes the pace of play for Philly. He can hold the ball and be like a quarterback and pick the best pass going forward. Cory Burke is a bulldog up top and grinds games out for Philly.
The two of them will be key to how the game ends for the Union. If Philly is winning the match when those guys come in they can make the game uncomfortable for LAFC. If Philadelphia is chasing a goal they can come on and influence a game to find a tying or winning goal as they did against.
5. Players that could be the MVP of the Final
There are so many players who are going to be on the pitch that could be the MVP of the game. Let’s focus on the top two, one from each team!
For LAFC, Carlos Vela is the guy. He was the clubs first signing and he’s their talisman. As he goes so too goes LAFC. If LAFC dominates the game it will likey be because of Vela. Therefore, I’d expect Vela to win MVP. However, if LAFC is in a scrappy game and guts it out MVP would likely go to a different player on LAFC’s roster.
For the Union, they will need their brick wall Andre Blake to be huge in this game. He has the knack to make a spectacular save when he’s called upon to make one. Against LAFC he’ll definitely need to be a showstopper. I’d expect the goalkeeper to win MLS Cup MVP should the Union win and lift their first-ever MLS Cup!
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Mandatory Credit: Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire