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Thrilling MLS Cup final ends in penalty shootout agony for the Philadelphia Union

The Union took a 3-2 lead deep into extra time only to fall on penalties after an even later equalizer from LAFC

Morgan Tencza

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Jack Elliott scored his second goal of the game deep into stoppage time of the second overtime period only to have MLS Cup snatched away at the death from a Gareth Bale equalizer and a disastrous penalty shootout.

The final match of the 2022 season lived up to the billing between the league’s two best teams, trading blows at Banc of California Stadium in a familiar heavyweight fight manner from two previous regular season draws.

The hosts drew first blood against a Union team that started slow when a Kellyn Acosta free kick deflected off the head of Jack McGlynn past Andre Blake. LAFC had a chance to double their lead in the 39th minute with a curler from Carlos Vela to Diego Palacios but the Goalkeeper of the Year was there yet again to deny a second goal like he now famously did against NYCFC in the conference final.

After a much needed break at the half to calm things down, the Union came out a much better team in the second half and found their equalizer in the 59th minute through their talisman Daniel Gazdag. What looked like it might be another Jose Martinez missed shot from distance fell right to the Hungarian who took a great touch and tidy finish to level the score.

The 1-1 score line held until the 83rd minute when LAFC took a 2-1 lead against the run of the play off a corner kick that led to a Vela cross to Jesús Murillo for a goal.

The goal felt like a gut punch with the Union having much more of the ball, but it also didn’t feel like an exclamation point and was in fact just the beginning of one of the wildest finishes ever for an MLS Cup final.

Three minutes after LAFC took the lead, Elliott got on the end of a Kai Wagner pass to bring things level at 2-2, which held through the 90 and 7 minutes of stoppage time. Both teams were starting to tire playing at such a high pace but extra time would bring more fireworks.

Substitute Cory Burke was in on goal when LAFC keeper Maxime Crépeau came out and took out the Jamaican to deny a clear goalscoring chance outside the box. The foul was initially called a yellow but later changed to red. Crépeau was seriously injured on the play and the time it took to treat him on the field would be significant later on in the amount of stoppage time added.

Philadelphia native John McCarthy came into goal to face his former team down to 10 men in the 117th minute and was picking the ball out of the back of the net seven minutes later with what looked to be the goal that would bring the cup back to Philly from Elliott. The goal came off an initial save from McCarthy but Elliott was there to tap home the rebound.

The 3,000-some Union fans in the buildings and the thousands of fans packing Subaru Park back home in Chester were convinced at this point that the biggest trophy in MLS was coming home but with six minutes still to play in the stoppage time of the second overtime period, LAFC still had a chance. They took in the 128th minute when Gareth Bale rose up to head in a Palacios cross Blake was able to get a hand to but couldn’t keep up.

Somehow, down to 10 men LAFC had survived to send it to penalties, which would prove disastrous for the Union.

After a Blake save on a weak attempt from Cristian Tello, the wheels on the best Union season in franchise history fell off. Gazdag slipped on his penalty and missed badly, Martinez and Wagner had their penalties saved and LAFC didn’t miss again en route to their first MLS Cup trophy in front of the partisan sellout crowd of 22,384.

By all accounts, it was the most thrilling final in league history but it was one that in the end slipped away from the Union, which goes into the offseason with a fair amount of question marks and a World Cup season with a heavy weight on their shoulders of what could’ve been.