Analysis: Bale & McCarthy lift LAFC to MLS Cup over Philly in an all-time classic

It was a game for the ages as a highly anticipated MLS Cup between the league's two best teams delivered perhaps the greatest game in league history. In the end, Gareth Bale provided a stunning stoppage time equalizer and Philadelphia native John McCarthy came off the bench to be the hero for LAFC over his former club. ASN's Brian Sciaretta offers up his thoughts on the game. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
November 05, 2022
9:05 PM

IN A GAME THAT will go down as one of the best and most talked about games in league history, Los Angeles FC won MLS Cup in a shootout after a thrilling 120 minutes ended at 3-3. The game had it all and it was full of surprises. Philadelphia had two goals from central defender Jack Elliot, then Gareth Bale came off the bench to score an equalizer in the ninth minute of stoppage time while down a man and the hero of the game turned out to be Philadelphia native Josh McCarthy who came off the bench and didn’t allow a single goal in the shootout to stun his former team.

In a game that was highly anticipated given that it was a rare MLS Cup between the top seeds of each conference, the final more than lived up to the anticipation. There is so much to unpack from this game, it’s tough to know where to begin.

United States national team defensive midfielder Kellyn Acosta scored the games only goal in the first half for LAFC when he elected to take a dangerous free kick and while he hit it well, it deflected off Union midfielder Jack McGlynn who was standing in the wall. After the shot ricocheted off the U.S. U-20 international, it snuck past Andre Blake’s right side to give LAFC a 1-0 lead.

The remainder of the first half was even as both teams had their chances but the second half is when the game exploded.

In the 59th minute, the Philadelphia Union equalized when a poorly cleared corner kick was sent back in with a low pass by Jose Martinez. Daniel Gazdag collected it quickly and beat Maxime Crepeau to make it 1-1.


The drama then started in the 83rd minute when Jesus Murillo headed home a Carlos Vela corner kick. But just when it seemed as if LAFC found a winner, Philadelphia responded in the 85th minute when Kai Wagner delivered a free kick that was headed home by Jack Elliot to pull the game to 2-2.

Extra time was standard until a wild string of events started in the 116th minute. Cory Burke got behind the LAFC defense and both Burke and Crepeau attempted to go for a ball just outside the box. There was an ugly collision which resulted in both players suffering injuries, Crepeau’s injury was serious. The Canadian national team goalkeeper had to be stretchered off and he also was issued a red card since he fouled Burke from behind.

Crepeau was replaced by Josh McCarthy, a Philadelphia native who played college soccer at La Salle University and then was with the Union as Blake’s backup.

In the fourth minute of extratime stoppage time, the Union looked as if it had the winner as Elliot hit home his second of the game when there was a scramble in front of the net and the English-born Elliot put home the go-ahead goal.


But then came an iconic moment in the history of the league. Gareth Bale has struggled to gain a foothold within LAFC’s plans all season and injuries have kept him from ever getting to full form and fitness. He came into the game in the 97th minute and on essentially LAFC’s last rush up the field, left back Diego Palacios was able to get open to send in a short cross and Bale won an acrobatic header with his back to the goal and sent it past Blake for an equalizer that sent the Banc of California stadium into an eruption.

The shootout was decisive, and it was something few would have predicted.

After LAFC’s Cristian Tello had his shot saved by Blake and then Gazdag for Philadelphia slipped and saw his shot fly over the goal, we were tied after the first round.

Then it became the John McCarthy show.

Daniel Bouanga converted his kick while McCarthy denied Jose Martinez.

Ryan Hollingshead converted down the middle while McCarthy then denied Kai Wagner.

That allowed Illie Sanchez to step up with the chance to seal it for LAFC, and he did.

With the win, Steve Cherundolo led LAFC to its first title in his first season as a head coach. The popular former U.S. national team right back has been a huge hit in LA and has certainly made a name for himself as one of the top young American managers in the game.

But here are some thoughts on the game.


McCarthy adds to Philly’s pain


If there is any one player that was going to beat Philadelphia, John McCarthy is the one that makes the loss the most painful. You expect to get beaten by Cienfuegos, Vela, Bouanga, or Arango. Even Bale coming off the bench.

But a seldom used backup keeper from your hometown? No one saw that coming.

“Johnny is a great kid, a Philly kid. A guy that did great things here in Philadelphia,” Philadelphia manager Jim Curtin said. “As soon as the injury happened, I started the half-joke with my staff that I can't believe Johnny is going to be in there and this is probably going to go to PKs.”


But McCarthy has always been good at penalties. In 2015, McCarthy started Philadelphia’s Open Cup games until the final. During that run, he saved four penalties heading into the final. Then in the final, Blake was selected to start but Curtin made a change at the end to put McCarthy in for the shootout and Kansas City prevailed in the shootout.

But what makes this even wilder is that there is a good chance McCarthy doesn’t even get a shot in MLS without Curtin showing so much faith in him during the 2015 Union preseason.

After the game, McCarthy was classy and acknowledged his love for both the Union organization and his hometown.

“I'm a Philly kid through and throughout,” McCarthy said. “I grew up in Philly my whole life, grade school, high school, college. I know the people from that city. I know a lot of guys on that team, some of the fans. Some of the guys in Sons of Ben were texting me beforehand some funny jokes and talking s**t and whatnot. But it was – it was just a moment that you dream of as a kid, to play in a final, first off, and then to play against a team that pushed us all the way until the last game of the season, to be in the final. I wish it was against somebody else, honestly, because I feel for the team and the city because if it was against -- if we weren't in and Philly was in the final, I would for sure root for them.”

“To be a Philly kid and play against my hometown team, it's their first final, ever, in the MLS Cup, so it's something special,” he added. “I would root for them any day of the week besides today, and I genuinely mean that. 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.”

Steve Cherundolo said afterward that he always had faith in McCarthy.

“John is an excellent goalkeeper,” Cherundolo said afterward. “He could be a number one elsewhere. He could be a number one for us. It's very tight between him and Max, but both are great teammates and push each other to get better. My personal opinion, the best number two in the league, and that's how we choose our goalkeepers… It couldn't happen to a better guy. John is one of the heartbeats of this team, emotionally.”


Bale’s moment


When Gareth Bale delivered the equalizer in the eighth minute of extratime stoppage time, it was a moment that everyone watching knew would instantly become one of the most iconic moments in the history of the league.

Many casual observers of the league, particularly those in Europe, have been wondering why Bale hasn’t been starting or playing more. But he hasn’t been close to 100% since he arrived. He’s had glimpses of playing well, but he wasn’t in position to be a consistent producer and he didn’t play in LAFC’s first two games of the playoffs.


Bale knew his limitations coming into this game, but wanted to be in a position to do everything he could to help.

“We spoke about if I'm needed for the last 20, 30 minutes, I'm available, because I haven't trained too much over the last three or four weeks because I've had this little slight issue,” Bale explained. “I was able to come on for the last 20, 30 minutes, and just give as much as I can.”

“It's always nice to score in finals, and I seem to have a knack for doing that. It's big. It's important for the club. It's important for the fans. Like I said, we were down to 10 men, I guess not really looking like we were going to get anything out of the game. Credit to everybody and to keep pushing and keep fighting, and like I said, it was nice to get the goal and to help the team.”


Acosta had a big game


Between the two teams, Kellyn Acosta was the only player likely to go to the World Cup for United States – likely as the backup to Tyler Adams. The Texan had a strong outing in this game and was key towards delivering the win. Yes, his free kick took a lucky deflection, but he hit it well and was solid in many facets. He was taken out before the start of extratime.

  • 90 minutes
  • 50 touches
  • 28/34 passing
  • 1/2 long balls
  • 2 chances created
  • 1 shot
  • 1 goal
  • 4/4 ground duels
  • 2/4 aerials
  • 2 fouls
  • 2x fouled



From a defensive midfielder, it was a good performance and the only two Union goals were off set pieces. But Acosta’s goal took some convincing as Carlos Vela is typically the team’s free kick taker.

“It was a bit of fortune - it took a slight deflection and was able to go in the goal,” Acosta explained. “I told Carlos, I'm feeling it, and I was lucky enough for him to give it to me because usually if he wants it, I'm like, all right, it's Carlos Vela.”

But Acosta looks to be heading into Qatar in good form and ready to go if Adams can’t.


Cherundolo's rise as a coach


Another big story after this game is the job that Steve Cherundolo did with LAFC and he cemented his status as one of the top young American coaches in the game. LAFC was not an easy team to manage. There were big egos and heavy turnover throughout the season. The addition of players made it harder to manage, not easier.

But Cherundolo was able to handle things well and, while there was a midseason slump, LAFC was able to fight through it and figure out how to get things back on track.

What does this say about Dolo? Well, he will have opportunities eventually and he is well connected in Europe. He also could potentially emerge as a national team coach candidate down the road. But he can draw from a lot of different experiences as a national team player, as a club player, as a youth coach, as an assistant coach, and now as a first team manager.


“I think I've gone about coaching in different ways, and I've coached developmental, which is a different way to coach players,” Cherundolo explained. “There's a different goal. So you have to coach them different. Your methodology is different, and your tactics are different, as well.”

“This business as a coach or as a player is not plannable,” he added. “Things happen. You need to be ready for them. The worst thing you can do as a coach is jump into a situation you're not prepared for. So during those times when you are looking for the right job or looking for a job, it's about preparing yourself when it does come. I felt very well prepared for this job, and I think maybe two titles speaks for itself.”


The Union’s future


The Philadelphia Union lost a very tough game. The team played very good soccer in the second half and lost the game on a wonder play from Gareth Bale and a free kick deflection.

“We didn't have Johnny, and Gareth Bale being the ones that did us in today,” Curtin said afterward. “Soccer is a funny sport that way. Guys stepped up in the big spot, and we were probably about two or three minutes away from lifting our trophy in the MLS Cup which would have been amazing.”

It’s a bit unfortunate given how likeable the Union organization is. They don’t spend a lot on expensive players like LAFC, but they develop youth and they find the right players. Two years ago, the team rebounded from the loss of Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson. But without a doubt they are going to have to deal with losses again.

Paxten Aaronson is set to leave for Eintracht Frankfurt. MLS Soccer’s Tom Bogart broke the story but ASN can report that Eintracht was after Aaronson since early in the season, even before the CONCACAF U-20 Championship. Aaronson will see the Union lose one of their best prospects before he makes the impact his brother did for the Union.''

Kai Wagner was named to the league’s best XI and looks as if he will want to return home to Europe.

But the Union are going to be very vulnerable to losing players all across their roster. Daniel Gazdag will certainly have offers as he was one of the league’s best players. Alejandro Bedoya will return on a one-year deal, but how much is left in his tank. Jacob Glesnes and Jack Elliot will also want more money or could be subject to transfer interests as two of the league’s best central defenders.

Then you have the Philadelphia Union’s remaining top U.S. U-20 players. Only Jack McGlynn played regularly, and he showed a huge upside. Then you have Quinn Sullivan and Brandan Craig who will be in the shop window at the U-20 World Cup next year and Sullivan is already getting interest based on his involvement with the U-20 national team.

Curtin said it is his hope to keep the team together but acknowledged the challenges.

“I think the most important thing is to keep this group together,” Curtin said. “That won't be easy because, when you have success, people want a little bit more, and they are deserving of a little bit more because we have a great team and great players.”

“I hope that we are able to keep this group together again. Maybe sprinkle in a piece or two that can provide some more depth and cover. But overall, you guys can tell, we are close. We are close, and we can win an MLS Cup. But just today wasn't meant to be. So to answer your question, I hope this group stays together for many years. I think we can make another run at this thing. But right now, it hurts, and we'll have to regroup and handle the off-season.”

There is also the issue of Curtin himself, who will want a little bit more. He’s one of the best American coaches in the game and has helped to build a very good contender on a regular basis. The team has a system in place that can handle the inflow and outflow of players.

Curtin will likely be in demand at some point. What happens if one of the bigger spending teams in MLS comes in looking to interview him? What happens if a European team comes to interview him? What happens if U.S. Soccer comes to interview him? It’s the same with Ernst Tanner, the sporting director who has also played a massive role.

Curtin has seen his friend and former long-time teammate Jesse Marsch push his career and Curtin will no doubt want more soon. He obviously deserves it.

Philadelphia remains a top organization but keeping it all together is going to be tricky.

Post a comment