LAFC inch closer to MLS Cup with 3-2 win over Galaxy

LAFC inch closer to MLS Cup with 3-2 win over Galaxy

Published Oct. 21, 2022 3:04 a.m. ET

By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer

What began less than a week ago as a 14-team MLS Cup playoff field is now down to six.

LAFC and the Philadelphia Union — the regular season conference champions and the tournament's two highest seeds — became the first two clubs to advance to the semifinals Thursday. LAFC beat its crosstown rival LA Galaxy in typically dramatic fashion while Philly narrowly outlasted upstart FC Cincinnati

The other two quarterfinals will be played on Sunday. Here are four quick thoughts on Thursday's games.


LAFC takes thrilling Tráfico, edges closer to MLS Cup 

The most eagerly anticipated match of these playoffs so far more than lived up to the billing. Twice LAFC took the lead. Twice the Galaxy clawed their way back to equalize, before Cristian Arango finally put Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez & Co. away with the winner in second half stoppage time:

We've come to expect this sort of drama when these two teams meet — the only other playoff between them, in 2019, ended 5-3 for LAFC — but that doesn't mean anyone should take Thursday's outcome for granted. After all, the last two teams to win the Supporters Shield before Steve Cherundolo's team did it this season were eliminated in their first playoff test. 

Despite LAFC's regular season crown, the Galaxy were in better form coming into the match. They looked fully capable of pulling off the upset in extra time or penalties until Arango's last gasp strike. 

The hosts' victory was hard-earned, though. And they got it by displaying exactly the sort resilience they'll need to get past either Austin or Dallas in the Western Conference final — and if they do, to claim the trophy they want the most on Nov. 5.

Unfinished business for Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Union did on Thursday what they've done all year. They won at home, and they did it by being their usually stingy selves in a hard-fought 1-0 victory over former Philly assistant coach Pat Noonan's FC Cincinnati. Leon Flach scored the only goal the Union needed in the 59th minute.

As expected, it was a tight affair between two of the best-drilled teams in MLS. The visitors gave the East's No. 1 see all they could handle, and they too were superb defensively, limiting a team that scored a league-best 72 goals during the regular season to Flach's lone strike. That said, Philadelphia never really looked like they wouldn't find a way to survive and advance — even without captain Alejandro Bedoya, who missed the match with a hip flexor.

Having both the best back four in the league – Philly conceded fewer goals than any other team, too – and the best guy in net helped. When central defender Jack Elliott lost the ball to FCC striker Brandon Vazquez with just eight minutes to go, league MVP finalist Andre Blake, named MLS's goalkeeper of the year on Wednesday, was there to swat away Vazquez's shot and preserve the lead.

Now the Union return to the East final, where they'll face the winner of Sunday's match between Montreal and New York City FC. It was the Pigeons who ended favored Philly's 2021 season at the same stage after Curtin's roster was decimated by a COVID outbreak. Nobody has forgotten. This is a team on a mission. "We've proven we're a great team," Bedoya said in the lead-up to Thursday's contest. "Now we have to prove we're a championship team." Two more wins, and MLS Cup is theirs.

Galaxy left wondering what could have been

When substitute Dejan Joveljić pulled the visitors level with just five minutes remaining in Thursday's loss, the Galaxy looked like they might just pull off the upset. Despite giving up goals to Denis Bouanga on either side of halftime, Gregg Vanney's team was in it until the bitter end.

That's little consolation in the immediate aftermath. The five-time MLS Cup champs genuinely thought that another title was a realistic goal once they qualified for the postseason for just the second time since 2016. Those feelings surely grew when they dispatched Nashville in round one to set up Thursday's Tráfico.

The playoffs are all about momentum, and the Galaxy would've had plenty if Thursday had gone their way instead. Still, when the sting wears off, Vanney can be proud of how his squad ended their season. The former Toronto FC boss completely revamped his roster over since taking over the club he once played for two seasons ago, and while more tweaks will be forthcoming this winter, for the first time in a long time the Galaxy appear to be on the right track.

A season to build on for Cincinnati 

The stat line says it all. From start to finish on Thursday in Chester, Pennsylvania, FC Cincinnati gave Philadelphia everything they could handle. They had more of the ball. They completed more passes. They put more shots on target.

When the final whistle sounded with them on the losing end, the FCC players had every right to be devastated. That says a ton, too. For an organization that was a tire fire through its first three playoff-less seasons, 2022 was an expectation-changing about-face under first-year coach Noonan and new general manager Chris Albright.

Nobody was surprised when Cincy bounced the higher-seeded New York Red Bulls last weekend in the first postseason game in club history. Behind the most dangerous attacking trio in the league (Vazquez, playmaker Luciano Acosta and Brazilian forward Brenner) Albright and Noonan have assembled a squad littered with proven MLS players who fight for each other. This team clearly is on the come-up. Despite Thursday's bitter defeat, 2022 was a major step in the right direction for Cincinnati. 

They'll be an even harder out next year.

One of the leading soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.


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