Thanks to Cristian “Chicho” Arango, Los Angeles Football Club are headed to the MLS Cup final for the first time. Arango scored the go-ahead goal for the second straight game on Sunday in LAFC’s 3-0 victory over Austin FC in the Western Conference final.
LAFC, who won the Supporters Shield as the top team in the regular season, will host the Philadelphia Union on Saturday afternoon. LAFC have won 11 of their last 12 matches (including the postseason) at home.
It is the first time since Toronto in 2017 that the Supporters Shield winner has reached the MLS championship game.
“Our guys did an emphatic job,” LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo said. “That was the best I have seen implementing our match play from the beginning to the end. I’m very proud of the guys, but what I experienced in the locker room was hunger and a want for more.”
Arango headed in a cross from Carlos Vela in the 29th minute to put LAFC on top. The forward has scored in 26 of the 52 MLS games he has played since making his debut in August of last season. He is an MVP finalist after scoring 30 regular-season goals.
“It was fundamental that our team come out with compact pressure. We were all assertive. That was so we could go into the half with the lead,” Arango said after the game.
In the second half, Maximiliano Urruti scored an own goal and substitute Kwadwo Opoku added a score in the late stages.
After Urruti’s own goal in the 62nd minute, Opoku took advantage of a turnover and put a left-footed shot past Austin goalkeeper Brad Stuver.
“A lot of credit goes to LAFC, they made it difficult for us,” Austin coach Josh Wolff said. “They’ve been the best team the entire year and this was another example of that. They didn’t give us a chance to breathe or build up.”
Austin FC finished in second place in the Western Conference in their second season in MLS and had a 16-10-8 record during the regular season.
“There is so much pride with what we’ve been able to build in two years. We’re going to need to keep building on that next year,” Wolff said.
Philadelphia Union 3-1 New York City FC
Julian Carranza and Daniel Gazdag scored two minutes apart in the second half and the Philadelphia Union advanced to their first MLS Cup final with a 3-1 victory over New York City FC. Cory Burke also scored in the conference final for the Union, who were unbeaten in 19 matches at home this season.
Gazdag appeared to score for the Union in the 16th minute, but was offside. It was scoreless at the half before Maxi Moralez’s sublime strike that sailed past Andre Blake to put NYCFC in front 1-0 in the 57th minute.
The Union tied it up in the 65th with Carranza’s first career playoff goal. Moments later, Carranza directed a header to Gazdag, who scored to give Philadelphia the lead. Burke added a third goal in the 76th.
It was the second straight year the teams reached the Eastern Conference final. Last season, the Union were without 11 players because of Covid-19 protocols and NYCFC won 2-1. New York City went on to defeat the Portland Timbers in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw for the MLS Cup championship.