A View from Afar / MLS / Union

A Philly kid stands atop the soccer world

Photo courtesy of Major League Soccer

If it had to happen, better it be like this. 

Philly-area native John McCarthy is the hero of American soccer today. It’s just not how most Philly soccer fans hoped. 

Called on to replace red-carded LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau in extra time, McCarthy stopped two penalties to lead LAFC to a win over Philadelphia Union in perhaps the most exciting MLS Cup ever played.

This is your MLS Cup MVP. 

Yes, John McCarthy.

McCarthy grew up in Cinnaminson and played for Philly’s Northeast Catholic in high school and La Salle in college. He featured for local USL 2 clubs Reading United and Ocean City Nor’easters before spending four years with Philadelphia Union. His local ties and solid play made him a fan favorite during his Union days backing up Andre Blake. 

“I would root for them any day of the week besides today, and I genuinely mean that,” McCarthy said after the game. “There’s a lot of good people in that organization, and they mean a lot to me. From that aspect, they have a lot of meaning in my heart, but there’s something that the group of people there actually taught me: When you cross a white line, doesn’t matter who you are playing against, you play to win.”

And he did, sinking the Union on a day that Philadelphia became the first city to ever lose two pro sports championship games in one day. 

Now, the Philly kid is an LA favorite.

And you know what? 

He deserves it. 

A star in USL, McCarthy played well at the MLS level during his last two Union seasons, saving 75% of the shots he faced over 14 games in 2017 and 2018. Union fans will remember his penalty shootout heroics in the 2015 U.S. Open Cup that led Jim Curtin to replace Blake with McCarthy just before the penalty shootout in the final. 

But when McCarthy got his shot as a starter in MLS, it was with the Inter Miami expansion train wreck. He started 30 games in 2020 and 2021 for a Miami team with an awful back line and was essentially average, with a 64% save rate and surrendering exactly as many goals as were expected. 

Nearly everyone with Miami needed a change of scenery, and McCarthy got it by reuniting with Oka Nikolov, a former Union teammate and mentor who took over in February as LAFC’s goalkeeping coach. He started just two competitive matches for LA this year, saving 7 of 10 shots, but he also started a friendly against Club America and put in a solid showing in its penalty shootout.

Still, when people predicted a Philly goalkeeper could be the MVP of MLS Cup, they weren’t thinking of McCarthy. 

But as Blake and McCarthy walked toward the goal in the moments before the shootout, smiling and chatting like old friends, that 2015 U.S. Open Cup final loomed large in memory. Blake may be one of the best MLS goalkeepers, but Curtin saw back in 2015 that McCarthy was better at stopping penalties. Blake has improved that part of his game, but on Saturday, McCarthy proved better in this area once again. 

The Union put in a performance for the ages, but so did McCarthy.

It’s a classic Hollywood ending. Unfortunately, it’s a classic Philly ending too.


  1. Stunned?

    Nah… In fact as LAFC replaced their Canadian goalie I said to a friend, “Johnny Mac is an expert at stopping penality kicks.”

    Remember? He did that for us for years… but with a helmet!

    Anyone know WHY Carannza wasn’t cued up after Gazdag’s miss? To have Martinez miss the next shot…. very predictable BTW… was curious and that ended the 2022 season on his miss. Poetic? Maybe.

    • Larry Guengerich says:

      Bingo to all of this. Called it exactly. Told my kid that if Martinez took it, we were done

    • I think the team needs to submit the list of the first 5 PK takers before it starts, so if Caranza was initially slated for 4th or 5th, he couldn’t be moved up.

    • I was told to shut up by my relatives when I made the same comment about JM! It just gave me a really bad vibe when he came in. I hate that I was right.

    • My guess is that Curtin is the kind of coach that lets the most enthusiastic players in the huddle take the shot. Thats pretty much how he explained jack mcglynn’s (ice in veins) PK. And we’ve seen Martinez try to grab the ball from Gazdag or Carranza to take a pen in a game before, so I bet he wanted it more. My list was 1) gazdag 2)Wagner 3)Carannza 4) Elliot 5) donavon or aaronson or BEDOYA! I dont understand why hes on the bench if hes not coming in to close out the last 4 minutes

  2. Good article, Dan, but I’ll disagree with one adjective. McCarthy came in for the red-carded keeper rather than the injured keeper. He could have been perfectly healthy but wouldn’t have stayed in the game.

  3. Sorry, but this is a dumb take. McCarthy isn’t deserving of the award…his penalty stops were less than routine. For me, the fact that he was given it shows THERE WERE NO LAFC PLAYERS WORTHY OF IT. If the league wasn’t run by idiots, they would have given it to Elliott. Where is it written the MVP has to be on the winning side? Yeesh.

    • Two goals aside, I don’t think you can give it to the player who got bodied on the game-tying goal when his team doesn’t end up winning. McCarthy was a worthy choice — stopping two penalties out of three is a hard thing to do, even if the takes weren’t convincing.

      • On the other hand, he was on the field for about 12 minutes and gave up a goal. Not a very good goals against average even if his team was down a man and he made a great save just before it.

    • McCarthy won the emotion of the moment more than earned it with his saves. (The shots were poor.) I think though I agree that no one on LAFC actually earned it. We dominated most of the match aside from set pieces, where they were deadly. Who from their side really stood out as having a great game? Bale? I mean he and John were the impact subs for sure, but there you are.

      • On LAFC I would say either Illie or Ibeaga would have been more worthy MVP choices. Those two were constantly breaking up promising attacking moments by the Union

  4. PaulContinuum22 says:

    Galling to the very ends of the earth he got MVP. Where was he and his Courtois-esque PK saves during the 2015 US Open shootout? And why did Curtin pull Blake for this guy? Another serrated knife twisted into Union fandom’s heart.

  5. Great read Dan. When I saw John coming on for the LAFC keeper I got the feeling he would do something good if not spectacular. He’s a good guy. Hate that he beat us. Nuggs has a good take I think. The subs for LA stole the show. Better McCarthy than Bale. And I thought Dre and John huggi g and chatting prior to PK’s was a great show of class by both.

    • Best friends and co-workers for years. Helped each other grow while in Chester together.

      And yup, Johnny Mac is a great guy, probably still bleeds blue & gold… and my guess had his own mixed emotions too.

      Just the best season EVER. Thanks to everyone in Chester for this great year.

      Here’s to hosting MLS Cup 2023 in “The RU”.

      Happy Holidays to all!

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