1.) Coming into the 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs, Philadelphia has had a bit of a storyline: the underdog, small-money club on a revenge tour from last year’s Eastern Conference Final loss to NYCFC. Is there a similar storyline for the home side?
In some ways, yes, in others, not so much. LAFC’s overriding narrative is going for a domestic double this year, trying to get to the pinnacle after having a talented team in the past but coming up short in the playoffs. In contrast to Philadelphia, LAFC has remade the roster so much and laid out enough money that to lose would be a disappointment. At the same time, they seem to have built a roster that can roll with the punches, have different guys step up on different days, and deal with some adversity. And they’ve done that!
I actually think reducing this game to “Rich guys look to down little guys to MLS Cup glory” is way too reductive, but there are certainly some elements of truth in that narrative. It is only year five for LAFC, but they seem to have learned from past mistakes and let their play do the talking. And unlike many teams in MLS who spend big, LAFC has not just splashed the cash for the sake of it (maybe Gareth Bale is an exception, we’ll see...). So we’ll see if their approach works or if it really is Philadelphia’s year in American sports.
2.) Everyone knows LAFC’s strengths: Vela, Arango, Acosta, etc. But where is LAFC weakest in its best XI?
That’s a really tough question, to be perfectly honest. I think any team in the MLS Cup final is going to struggle to identify the weak link, especially when the team is healthy, which LAFC nearly are.
If absolutely pressed, I would say the only player who has not yet won a game for LAFC this year is goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau. It’s his first year here, and on a largely bad Vancouver Whitecaps side the past several years, he made a habit of bailing them out and turning results himself a few times each season. On a much better team, Crepeau has been solid, and steady, and that’s totally fine. He’s not been bad by any means. But he hasn’t yet taken a game over like goalkeepers do from time to time. Sure would be great if MLS Cup was the game where he does that, but we’ll see.
3.) The Football Club advanced to the final with a brutal 3-0 win over Austin FC, arguably MLS’ third-best team this year. How did LA handle ATX, and how have they beaten opponents throughout this year?
I found that win beautiful, and far from brutal, but it probably depends on where you stand. In that game, LAFC really put together a 90-minute performance, something they have struggled with all season. On the bright side, they seldom steamrolled opponents, and not infrequently found themselves needing to step up in the 2nd half after struggling to put their imprint on the game in the 1st, or going down to their opponent. I don’t think it was a mentality thing I don’t think they slacked on purpose and then got serious, that’s a terrible habit for teams and that’s not what this was. But in sacrificing the ability to really score in bunches with having a far more balanced approach under Steve Cherundolo compared to his predecessor, Bob Bradley, games were tighter and LAFC had a lot of games where they had to work, hard, to get the win or draw. I think that’s set them up really well for this game.
If LAFC can play as they played in their last two playoff games, I think they will be very, very hard to beat. Finals are different, and either or both teams could look different than how they normally play, if you watch this sport enough you see that’s a pretty common problem. But if LAFC hit their marks, play smart, and execute like they intend to, I don’t expect them to roll over the Union, but I can certainly see them getting what they need to in order to win on the day.
4.) Will LA have any notable absences? What are your score and lineup predictions?
Eddie Segura is out, so I expect Giorgio Chiellini to get the start again. Otherwise, it appears to be a clean bill of health and honestly, I have no idea if Gareth Bale will be in the squad at all or not.
Lineup: GK - Crepeau; Hollingshead, Murillo, Chiellini, Palacios; Acosta, Sanchez, Cifuentes; Vela, Arango, Bouanga
Prediction: LAFC win, I don’t care if it’s 1-0 or 50-49.