PREVIEW – The 2022 MLS Cup Final is tomorrow. Los Angeles FC hosting Philadelphia Union at 4 PM ET. You can watch the game on FOX, Univision, and TUDN. As we discussed on the podcast this week, there’s so many storylines. These are the top two teams in league. They are stacked with star players and individuals worth rooting for. There’s a saying in sports media: “We don’t root for teams. We root for good people, good stories.” Which of these two clubs, which players on both teams, and which coach does this final matter more to? Who’s the better story?
Which Club, Players, and Coach Does MLS Cup Matter Most To?
Let me first qualify these questions and the answers to come. This is a matchup of two teams who’ve never won MLS Cup. Tomorrow will be the greatest day in the club history for the winner. It’s the biggest game either team has played in. It matters to everyone involved in both clubs, tremendously. On some level I’m nitpicking, romantically.
Which club does it mean more to?
LAFC had made such a big deal publicly of wanting this. They’ve spent big to assemble this super team. They’ve won the Supporters’ Shield twice. On some level, they live in the shadow the LA Galaxy’s five MLS Cups. You want to be a super team in MLS? You need to win trophies. That’s what D.C., the Galaxy, and Sounders did. You can be process oriented or you can be goals/results oriented. LAFC publicly and internally has been about goals and results. They said it with a few weeks to go in the season they’d rather set themselves up better for the playoffs at the expense of the Shield. Philly’s in on the process and a long term strategy rather than Cup or bust.
Which players does it matter the most to?
There’s a few I’ll highlight here. Carlos Vela’s done about everything a star attacker can in five years in MLS. He’s won MVP, the Golden Boot, and Goal of the Year. He’s put up numbers and won two Shields. The only thing he’s missing is a signature playoff moment and a ring. He scores in this final in a win, he’s the first player in LAFC history who should get a statue, ring of honor induction, etc.
Also for LAFC, I look at Kellyn Acosta and Gareth Bale. Acosta’s possibly playing his final game in MLS. He wanted to go to Europe back in January. That led to Colorado Rapids trading him to LAFC. He’ll be at the World Cup. If he plays well, a $2 million plus offer should come in January. He’s grown tremendously in MLS. He’s become one of the best all-around domestic midfielders in the league. He’s won the Shield, Open Cup, Gold Cup, and Nations League. This would be a great way to finish out his time in MLS.
Now, Bale. He’s been so underwhelming. He’s barely played. Two goals. No assists. He hasn’t scored since early August. He played five minutes total in October. Is he hurt? Is he just terrified of getting hurt before the World Cup? How has this move helped get him fit for the World Cup? He likely isn’t starting in this game. He might be an unused sub. If he plays well for Wales and they get out of the group, maybe it’ll have been worth it. LAFC’s paying him a lot of money to train and golf. This is a joke. So help me if MLS puts out some marketing stuff about him if LAFC win the Cup with him not even playing in the playoffs.
For Philly, there’s two players that stand out. Alejandro Bedoya and Andre Blake. Bedoya’s the captain of this team. He’s been the old vet, the bannerman for this project. He’ll turn 36 in April. This would be a crowning achievement for him to finish his career or the start of the end. Blake’s been the best goalkeeper in MLS for years. He just won Goalkeeper of the Year on the third best defense in MLS history. He makes a bunch of saves to win this game 1-0 and wins MLS Cup MVP, he’s a legend. If does that, the only thing missing to become the best goalkeeper in league history is the statistical longevity.
Which coach does it matter the most to?
It’s Jim Curtin. He’s been on the Union coaching staff since 2013 and head coach since 2014. He’s been building towards this for years. He’s survived the hot seat, one-year contracts, and multiple technical directors. This is the one thing missing on his resume. Just like Vela, he wins this final, he’s the most important person in club history. An MLS Cup could elevate his status for jobs in Europe or potentially the USMNT (assuming Leeds United stays up). He will no question become the premier coach in MLS with this title.
Which is the better story?
I don’t root for teams. I root for good stories. The Philadelphia Union winning MLS Cup is the better story. They’ve been building towards this for years. LAFC are the expensive sports car that got some work done and turned it into a good glow up. These two teams have tactical and personnel similarities, but they’re meeting from different paths and approaches.
So many smaller market teams on a budget are aspiring to become the Union. There’s maybe seven other teams in MLS that have the right market, stadium, and ownership situation to be what LAFC are. Philly winning MLS Cup will be proof of concept that you can win MLS Cup in the MLS 3.0 era on a budget. Give me the scrappy underdog who’s been building to this moment for years over the Hollywood one year wonder.
That said, I think LAFC wins 2-1 in regular time.