Match previews / Union

Match preview: LAFC vs Philadelphia Union

Photo: Stephen Speer

Who: Philadelphia Union (Eastern Conference first seed) vs. LAFC (Western Conference first seed)

What: MLS Cup Final

Where: Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles, California

When: Saturday, Nov. 5, 4 pm

Watch: FOX, Univision

Whistle: Ref: Ismail Elfath; AR1: Corey Rockwell; AR2: Ian Anderson; 4th: Joe Dickerson; VAR: Drew Fischer; AVAR: Jeff Muschik

The biggest game of the MLS calendar has finally arrived, the MLS Cup final. Los Angeles fans have been waiting for their high-powered offense to bring them to the final for the past five seasons, since joining the league as an expansion side. Philadelphia fans have had to endure a much longer and more painful route to their first MLS Cup finals. three U.S. Open Cup defeats, 10 seasons without a playoff win and numerous seasons near the bottom of the Eastern Conference made MLS Cup feel like a distant dream. Thirteen years after starting play, the Union finally find themselves in the final.

Scouting report: LAFC

Los Angeles will take great comfort in the fact that their first MLS Cup will be played in front of their home supporters, as LAFC have cruised to victories at Banc of California Stadium in the playoffs thus far, defeating rivals LA Galaxy and then Austin FC in the Western Conference final.

The way LAFC has been scoring of late has been a surprise though, as they have rediscovered their set piece success after being one of the best dead ball teams in the league early in the season. In attack, everyone has heard of MLS Best XI attacker Carlos Vela, who tallied 12 goals and 11 assists during the year, and current super-sub Gareth Bale, who may not feature in the final due to injury. Yet newcomer Denis Bouanga and Cristian Arango have been the stars of the playoffs. Each has tallied 2 goals in the playoffs, including combining for all three goals against the Galaxy and Arango opening the scoring against Austin.

In the midfield are some more big names for Los Angeles, as Ilie Sanchez keys their attacks and linking play. On the left flank is USMNT man Kellyn Acosta, who can be dangerous on free kicks and cover ground in a fast paced game. On the right side is Jose Cifuentes, who has been the most dangerous getting into the attack, contributing seven goals and seven assists during the year.

In defense, the center back pairing has been rotating between 3 players, but expect Giorgio Chiellini (if healthy) and Jesus Murillo to start. Chiellini may not possess the fitness to go a full 90 minutes, so expect Sebastien Ibeagha to replace him at some point in the match. At right back is former all-star Ryan Hollingshead, who has contributed a surprising six goals on the season as an aerial threat. Opposite him is Diego Palacios who can cover ground and get into the attack. Despite not sporting some of the biggest names, LAFC’s defense unit has been among the league’s best this year, giving up the 2nd fewest goals in the league, only behind Philadelphia.

In net is Maxime Crepeau, with the former Vancouver keeper keeping 9 clean sheets in 33 games during the regular season and adding another in the playoffs.

Injury report: None

Suspension report:  None

Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

Philadelphia had unfinished business after their COVID-related elimination in last year’s Eastern Conference final to NYCFC. For a brief moment on Sunday, it looked like the Union would fall short to NYCFC once again. But after the visitors’ opening goal, Philadelphia played their best 30 minutes of the season, getting a big save from Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake and then goals from Julian Carranza, Daniel Gazdag and Cory Burke.

Keeping up with the LAFC offense is a tough task for anyone in the league, yet the Union scored six more goals during the regular season than LAFC. Philadelphia’s goal scoring record is thanks in large part to MLS Best XI attacking midfielder Daniel Gazdag and his 22 goals and 10 assists in the regular season. Taking up the right and left sides of the Union’s three-headed monster is Julian Carranza, who started the scoring Sunday night, and Mikael Uhre, who is always looking for runs in behind.

Jack McGlynn and Jose Martinez will likely join Gazdag in the midfield, with McGlynn returning to the lineup after Alejandro Bedoya once again appears injured after departing at halftime in the Eastern Conference final. It will be a big stage for McGlynn, but his showing against NYC FC should give him confidence. Helping cover for Bedoya defensively will be Leon Flach, while Martinez will be tasked with slowing down LAFC’s Vela and Arango. Paxten Aaronson and Quinn Sullivan continue to be options off the bench, and Bedoya is likely to occupy a spot on the bench for emergency use.

Philadelphia allowed the fewest goals in a MLS regular season in league history. Jack Elliott and MLS Defender of the Year Jacob Glesnes have largely been impenetrable, allowing just one goal so far in the playoffs. MLS Best XI left back Kai Wagner is vital to Philadelphia’s attack, notching 15 assists to join his solid defensive play. On the right will be Oliver Mbaizo, who has had a rebound season after a vital mistake saw Philadelphia’s season end last season.

In goal for Philadelphia is their 4th and final MLS Best XI player, Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake. Blake made a key save on Sunday helping the Union advance and has collected 15 clean sheets in the regular season and 1 in the playoffs.

Injury report: Questionable: Alejandro Bedoya

Suspension report:  None

Key matchup: Possession battle

The only area where these teams differ is how they view possession. LAFC prefers to have the ball, particularly at their attackers’ feet. Philadelphia prefers to let opponents have the ball so they can force them into mistakes and hit quickly on counterattacks. Whoever makes the least amount of mistakes with the ball will claim MLS Cup.

Player to watch: Jacob Glesnes

A lot of players to watch in this game, but Glesnes is probably the most important. Philadelphia will need him on his best defensively as well as helping set up attacks with long balls over the backline. Glesnes proved he was the best defender in the regular season, can he once again prove it in MLS Cup?

Prediction:  Philadelphia Union 1-0 LAFC

Philadelphia and LAFC batten down the hatches for the majority of the game until the Union hit on a counterattack. A nervy first half gets more open for the first goal.

Authors note: I said I would keep predicting Union 1-0 wins until they won MLS Cup, so here we are.

Philadelphia = +290
LAFC = -130
Draw = +295


  1. Not finding a @Grisly_Bear5 on twitter with any content.

  2. I really want this team to win.
    I’m afraind this is the last run for this team. We have kids who need playing time, we have players who want/needs to move on, Bedoya is starting to show his age a bit.
    This is this squads last run at the title.
    I hope we win.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      The last run??? Sieve!!! Only Bedoya is an old piece. The rest of this group isn’t going anywhere – save for Wagner – and there are plenty of young guys ready to step in and Ernst in the transfer market with this team’s cache?? Someone will want to fill those spots, should they need it.

      • Well according to Tommy Scoops Paxten is being sold to Eintract Frankfurt in Germany in January……so one less youngster next season

    • Next man up.

  3. The Union have a chance Saturday to do something they’ve never done in their history, get at least one win against every other MLS team that they’ve played. Currently, LAFC and Austin are the only ones they’ve never beaten and they’ve never had the opportunity to play against the latter. MLS Cup would be nice, but that’s the real thing they are playing for.

  4. What’s up with the odds? Are they after 90 minutes? Cause the game can’t end in a draw.

  5. Split decisions says:

    I think a lot more than Wags are moving on………..

    With regard to the game itself, I hope:

    Bedoya does not start. (wondering if Sullivan would be the better option)

    Burke & McGlynn sub in by 70. *both make the bigger difference coming in to more settled tempo.

    Uhre can make like a Phillie starter and give me a half. (Seems like he’s nicked-and U can’t afford to have him wear down in the counters.)

    Kai finds his assist(s) boots.
    Blake has another gem in him.

    and above all:
    J-Mart controls himself (and the game)

  6. Our last 3 games against LAFC were draws. Would not be out of the blue to expect one tomorrow. If that’s what happens, then penalties ensue with Blake vs Crepeau. I’d take odds on Blake but man, that would fry my last nerve.

  7. Full court press don’t let them get into any kind of rhythm . We need to score early and disrupt there passing Caranza and Gazdag must do double duty today. Uhre has got to use his speed to get open. Bring Burke in at 65 minutes and continue the pressure.Martinez and Flach go 100 but no red cards. Blake can stop anything he sees. Nobody goes unmarked inside the 18. The Union can win this game. We need to make them work for all opportunities. Win all 50 50 balls.

  8. As said before, ceding possession is all well and good, but it is critically important where that possession is.
    I am ok letting LAFC have as much possession as they want in their half and even the majority of it in the central third of the field.
    But if the U let them have too much possession in our final third, we will get burned. Their players are too good to allow that.
    If the Union can limit LAFC’s possession in our final third, they can definitely win this game.

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