Underkeeper McCarthy the hero as hosts win MLS Cup

LAFC won a mad dash of an MLS Cup final against the Philadelphia Union as substitute keeper John McCarthy became the hero, saving two penalties in the shootout after a stunning 3-3 draw.

In front of their own fans on Saturday, LAFC took the lead through Kellyn Acosta’s deflected free kick but were caught just before the hour mark when Daniel Gazdag scored his 24th goal of the season.

Jesus David Murillo put LAFC ahead in the 83rd minute, but Jack Elliott stung the hosts with another leveler two minutes later.

England centre-back Elliott looked to have earned it when he put Philadelphia ahead deep in extra time, after LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau was sent off, but substitute Gareth Bale headed the hosts level in the eighth minute downtime.

Then the drama really escalated, with McCarthy, a Philadelphia-born former Union goalie, making saves from Jose Martinez and Kai Wagner, after Gazdag also sadly missed the shot.

Ilie Sanchez hid the decisive penalty in a 3-0 penalty shootout triumph, sparking wild celebrations of the team’s first MLS Cup triumph, with McCarthy named MVP.

The first goal in the 28th minute owed much to fortune, with Acosta’s 22-yard strike which hit 19-year-old Union midfielder Jack McGlynn’s header and found the bottom left corner.

It was the first time since 2003 that an MLS Cup featured the best teams from the West and East. They each finished the regular season with 67 points, but LAFC won the Supporters’ Shield due to more wins than Philadelphia, giving them the home advantage.

The game’s first equalizer came in the 59th minute when what looked like an extremely ambitious 30-yard shot from Jose Martinez inadvertently turned into a through ball for Gazdag, who controlled the bubbly low ball well before shooting in front of Crépeau.

Murillo looked to have headed a winner for Los Angeles with seven minutes left as he powered home Carlos Vela’s corner from the right. However, a terrific equalizer from Elliott, a fierce header from a Kai Wagner free kick down the left, tied Philadelphia in the 85th minute.

Bale entered the fray in the seventh minute of extra time, replacing Vela.

Philadelphia then appeared to have been the victim of an outrageous injustice when Cory Burke ran on base and was mowed down by Crepeau, who initially only received a yellow card for clear professional foul play, but was soon leveled. towards red. Crepeau looked badly injured and needed to be carried away, and along came McCarthy, the most unlikely of heroes.

What does it mean?

When the opener came in, it was hard to see LAFC being dragged down. For starters, they had won all 12 of their home games as they topped MLS this season. They had also lost just one of their 19 MLS home games against Eastern Conference opposition (W11 D7), a 2-1 loss to New York City FC in May 2021.

Realistically, no one could have imagined the drama that followed, with underdogs Union poised to lift the trophy, only for Bale to maintain his happy scoring knack on the big occasion. His brace for Real Madrid against Liverpool proved decisive in the 2018 Champions League final, when he was named man of the match, and he was also briefly man of the moment here.

Then McCarthy started making his money, as Philadelphia lost its temper. It was also their first MLS Cup final, and it ended in heartache.

Super John McCarthy

McCarthy became the first goalkeeper to appear in an MLS Cup final as a substitute, and the first to shut out an opponent in a penalty shootout in the showpiece game. He couldn’t do much against Elliott’s late goal in overtime, but he rose to the occasion when it mattered most.

Bale’s last show

Bale’s goal eight minutes into extra time was the last in MLS history, breaking a record Elliott had set just four minutes earlier. He’s heading to the World Cup with Wales on a trophy high.

And after?

It was a frantic high point of the MLS season, with the 2023 campaign kicking off in February. For now, the focus is on international football and the World Cup, with the United States taking on England, Iran and Bale’s Wales in the group stage later this month.

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