LAFC are on the verge of going back-to-back as MLS Cup champions after claiming the Western Conference crown over Houston Dynamo.
Steve Cherundolo’s side were unable to clinch the Supporters’ Shield for a third time, but they still remained one of the league’s most consistent teams by finishing in third place in in the West with 52 points for their second consecutive playoff appearance.
The Black and Gold finished with a 14-10-10 record, conceding just 39 goals to put themselves in a favorable position to to defend their 2022 MLS Cup.
Here’s how the Black and Gold punched their ticket to MLS Cup in this year’s postseason:
LAFC kicked off their title defense with a chaotic 5-2 triumph over Vancouver Whitecaps at BMO Stadium, with many believing the Canadian side didn’t stand a chance heading into the game.
The two teams were knotted up 2-2 at halftime after goals from Bouanga and Ryan Hollingshead, who’s scored four times as a right-back this postseason, and goals from Vancouver’s Brian White and Sam Adekugbe. In the second half, though, LAFC controlled the game.
Hollingshead and Boaunga scored their second goals of the game within 12 minutes of each other, while Jesus Murillo rounded things off in the 80th minute for good measure.
Game two between the sides only featured one goal, but there was still plenty of drama in extra time.
Bouanga stepped up for the Black and Gold and slotted his penalty attempt home to silence BC Place, as their team were in win-or-go-home scenario down 1-0 in the best-of-three series.
The Whitecaps huffed and puffed for the remainder of the game but were unable to get through the LAFC rigid backline. Late in extra time, however, the Whitecaps had a corner kick and were looking to find a breakthough to force a penalty shootout.
The ball bounced to the edge of LAFC’s penalty area, and just as Alessandro Schopf was about to send a strike toward goal, referee Timothy Ford blocked the Whitecaps player’s path, resulting in a goal via a counter attack for the Black and Gold that was eventually chalked off after a VAR check.
The Whitecaps fans, players and head coach Vanni Sartini were all furious with Ford’s actions but nothing came of it. LAFC escaped with a narrow 1-0 victory and swept Vancouver to advance to the conference semifinal against Seattle Sounders
Another narrow 1-0 win propelled LAFC to the Western Conference final, with Bouanga scoring the loan goal once again.
It wasn’t the best performance from an attacking standpoint for LAFC, as Seattle led in shots 16 to seven, shots on target eight to two and xG 1.3 to 0.41. On the defensive end, however, Maxime Crepeau put in one of the best showings in between the sticks to keep the home side from scoring.
Crepeau made seven saves on the night, also preventing an xG of 2.19, taking home player of the match. While LAFC’s attack typically gets all the plaudits, the team’s defense has provided them with the foundation to be successful with the likes of Crepeau, Murillo and the veteran Giorgio Chiellini.
Ironically, LAFC’s Western Conference final clash with Houston Dynamo was probably their most comfortable win thus far in MLS Cup playoffs.
The first 20 minutes were genuinely promising, as both sides strung together a few nice pieces of play to create half-chances. It wasn’t until halftime when the Black and Gold finally took their opportunity, as Hollingshead found the net from close range to put his side up 1-0 before the break.
An own goal from the former LAFC and Atlanta United full-back Franco Escobar doubled the home side’s advantage and essentially sealed passage to the final with 10 minutes remaining. It was another defensive clinic put on by Steve Cherundolo’s side, as the team held just 30% possession but had nearly double the amount of shots that Houston attempted (18-10).
Before the 2023 season began, many wondered if LAFC had it in them to repeat as MLS Cup champions. Now, Cherundolo’s team are just 90 minutes away from lifiting the trophy for the second straight year.
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