MLS analysis

Thoughts and analysis: Crew win MLS Cup over LAFC 2-1

The 2023 MLS Season is now over and the Columbus Crew have been crowned the champions after a great playoff run which ended with a 2-1 win over LAFC in the Ohio captial. ASN's Brian Sciaretta offers up his thoughts on the game. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
December 10, 2023
2:10 PM

THE COLUMBUS CREW ARE the 2023 MLS Cup Champions after a triumphant 2-1 win over Los Angeles FC on Saturday night in the Ohio capital. From the onset, the Crew were controlling possession and creating chances but unlike other LAFC opponents in the playoffs, the Crew were able to capitalize on their chances and force LAFC to play from behind.

Columbus had the better of play from the start but were able to capitalize early on a tough-luck penalty on Diego Palacios. Yes, by the rules it was a penalty and a handball. But there was very little Palacios could do to avoid touching the ball with his hand. It came off a chest from close range, hit is hand, but didn’t really affect the play.

It was the break that Columbus needed and Cucho Hernandez did not make much of a mistake.

The second goal came in the 37th minute when Malte Amundsen hit a pass for the ages which found Yow Yeboah inside the box. The Ghanian midfielder moved in alone from the left side and beat Maxime Crepeau for a 2-0 lead.

The second half saw LAFC begin to fight back. In the 74th minute it was Denis Bouanga who found the back of the net from close range. Patrick Schulte made a great save on the initial shot, but Bouanga put home the rebound. Schulte was injured on the play and it seemed as if a concussion was possible, but that was ruled out and he was able to stay in the game.

But Columbus was able to hold on after that and continue to limit LAFC from anything especially dangerous.

Eventually, the whistle sounded, and the Crew were crowned champions. Here are some thoughts.


Crew opened up the game


The big reason why the Crew were able to win this game is that they were able to open the game up in a way that other teams struggled to against LAFC. LAFC likes to sit deep for two reasons. First, they have older defenders (especially Giorgio Chiellini at 39) who are smart but lack pace. LAFC is in trouble if their defenders have to chase fast forwards. They prefer when everyone is deep and it becomes more about reading the game. Second, sitting deep opens up room on the counterattack for Bouanga. If other teams move higher, there is more room for their record-breaking forward who thrives in space when opponents are pressing.

But the Crew were able to hit devastating and very difficult passes which still made LAFC defenders move. The Amundsen pass on the second goal was just one example. Eventually, it just became too difficult for LAFC.


It was tough for the Crew to open the game but they managed to pull it off and it is why they won.


Nancy completes masterclass


The Crew have a lot of talent in key positions, but a big reason why they had such a great playoff run through Atlanta, away over Orlando, away over Cincinnati, and then home to LAFC is because Wilfried Nancy outcoached each of his counterparts. Other than the away loss to Atlanta in game two of the first round, every game was played on Nancy’s terms. In the win in Cincinnati, Nancy made a tough decision to take off Aidan Morris and bring in another forward with Christian Ramirez. In the win over Orlando, he also made key adjustments and key substitutions that made the difference. It was the same in the win over Atlanta, especially in the third leg after they dropped the middle leg.

Nancy is clearly one of the league’s best coaches right now and the Crew are in great shape moving forward, even if there are some changes.

On a side note, how bad does this look for Montreal? They were not able to make it work with Wilfried Nancy last season and the two parted ways due to “mutual consent?” It was the same thing with Jesse Marsch in Montreal. It’s tough to be a fan of this team these days.


Schulte and Morris


From an American soccer perspective, it was especially significant to point out that two young Americans played a big role in the success of Columbus. Schulte grew over the season and emerged as one of the better young American goalkeepers. In the final against LAFC, his best save was undone as Bouanga put in the rebound. But Schulte fought through that and made the saves he had to.

It’s a battle for him to make the Olympic team, but he will end 2023 in a good position and a favorite to be on the final roster. He should be expected to be on the USMNT January roster.

 Adian Morris was good in the final. He wasn’t great, like he was in the win over Orlando. But still, he had a big impact in the game and was important in the Crew’s effort to have a big possession edge. His passing from distance is very effective in the Crew being able to switch points of attack.

Like Schulte, Morris is U-23 eligible and should be a big part of the team’s plans under U.S. Olympic head coach Marko Mitrovic.

On another note, Morris should now be thinking about Europe. He’s a homegrown who has more than paid his dues to his club. He has started and won two MLS Cups for the Crew. He has answered any questions whether there would be problems following his 2021 ACL tear.

I like it when MLS teams sell homegrown players, but I also like it when the players stick around and play for a few years to prepare themselves and build roots with their first club before leaving. Morris has done that, he has achieved a lot, and he’s ready.


LAFC’s window is over


On the flip side, this looked like the end for many of this core for LAFC. Carlos Vela is older and out of contract. Giorgio Chiellini is older and out of contract. Kellyn Acosta is out of contract and could be looking for something different. Jesus Murillo will be 30 in the offseason. Ryan Hollingshead is 32 turning 33. Even record breaking forward Denis Bouanga will be 30 next season.

It seems like this LAFC needs a lot of changes, big changes, heading into 2024. They have been shown a willingness to spend a lot and make big moves. But now they need a lot of them, all over the field.


Concacaf Cup


Because of League’s Cup, there will be 10 teams in the CONCACAF Cup (formerly the CONCACAF Champions League) in 2024. With the result of MLS Cup, we now know the full list of MLS teams who will be involved.  

  • Columbus Crew
  • FC Cincinnati
  • Nashville SC
  • Inter Miami
  • Philadelphia Union
  • New England Revolution
  • St. Louis SC
  • Houston Dynamo
  • Orlando City
  • Vancouver Whitecaps


As for Liga MX, they are bringing their heavy hitters with Club America, Monterrey, Tigres, Pachuca, Chivas, along with Toluca.

It should be fun as there is now more on the line with the new expanded FIFA Club World Cup starting in 2025.

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