Wave Staff and Wire Reports
LOS ANGELES — The city of Angels has another championship team to celebrate.
An estimated 5,000 people gathered outside Banc of California Stadium Nov. 6 for an enthusiastic celebration of the Los Angeles Football Club’s first MLS Cup championship.
Fans lined the area along Christmas Tree Lane outside the stadium, snapping photos of players as they passed by with the coveted trophy aboard double-decker buses, and occasionally setting off small fireworks and waving signs.
After a procession by the gathered fans, the team took to a stage outside the stadium, thanking fans for their support and getting into the full spirit of the raucous celebration.
“Our fans have always been the heartbeat of our club,” the team’s managing owner, Larry Berg, told the crowd. “We have the best fans in the world and we couldn’t have done this without you. This championship is for you.”
In an epic game, LAFC defeated the Philadelphia Union in a penalty kick shootout after overtime ended in a 3-3 tie in the MLS Cup Nov. 5 at Banc of California Stadium. LAFC tied the score eight minutes into overtime stoppage time when Gareth Bale headed in a cross from Diego Palacios.
The goal came four minutes after defender Jack Elliott had given Philadelphia the lead when he put a right-footed shot from just in front of the right goal post into the bottom right corner of the net.
LAFC shot first in the shootout with Andre Blake stopping Cristian Tello’s shot. Dániel Gazdag put the Union’s first penalty kick over the goal.
LAFC forward Dénis Bouanga scored the first goal of the shootout, putting a right-footed shot into the top left corner of the net.
LAFC goalkeeper John McCarthy made a diving save on José Martínez’s penalty kick.
Defender Ryan Hollingshead gave LAFC a 2-0 lead when he put a right-footed shot into the center of the net.
McCarthy then made another diving save on Kai Wagner’s penalty kick before Illie Sanchez ended the shootout and gave LAFC the MLS Cup when he put a right-footed shot into the bottom right corner of the net for an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
“For me, the goal is always to maximize the potential of this group, and anything short of a Supporters’ Shield or MLS Cup for this group with this mentality wouldn’t have been enough,” LAFC’s first-season coach Steve Cherundolo said, referring to the award given to the MLS team with the best regular-season record, which was also won by LAFC.
“It was a lot of hard work, but that makes me proud, not the title, per se, but to have a group of individuals to make a team and to create a mentality to come back and go through everything up through today, the emotional roller coaster, that they found a way to come together and win, that’s probably what I’m most proud of.”
McCarthy was selected as the MLS Cup MVP for his two saves in the shootout.
“Couldn’t happen to a better guy,” Cherundolo said. “John is one of the heartbeats of this team emotionally. There was a moment in preseason where we found ourselves as a group, and John was right in the middle of that, being a vocal leader for this team, and working very hard all season long and being an amazing number two in disguise.
“We know what he can do in penalties. We’ve seen it. We’ve trained for these moments and John came up big.”
McCarthy entered the game in the 117th minute after goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau was given a red card for denying Cory Burke a clear goal-scoring opportunity with a foul. Crépeau had to be taken off the field on a stretcher with a broken leg.
The red card forced LAFC to play with 10 players the remainder of the game.
LAFC signed McCarthy as a free agent Jan. 21 after he spent the previous two seasons with InterMiami CF. The Philadelphia native played for the Union from 2015-18.
“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,” McCarthy said.
“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.”
McCarthy had made two appearances for LAFC before the championship game — allowing both goals in a 2-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids May 14 and making four saves in regulation against Club America in a Leagues Cup Showcase game Aug. 3 the Liga MX team won in a penalty kick shootout, 6-5, after regulation play ended 0-0.
Bale entered the game in the 97th minute, his first appearance since Oct. 2 when he entered what would be a 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers in the 85th minute. The World Cup-bound Wales star did not play in LAFC’s regular-season finale or its MLS Cup Playoffs games Oct. 20 and Oct. 30.
“I haven’t trained too much over the last three or four weeks because I’ve had this little slight issue,” Bale said. “I was warming up for 40 minutes trying to make myself ready to come on. I knew if the game was close, then yeah, I’m obviously in a good place to call up on.
“Obviously we took the lead and I was like, right, I’m not coming on, and then we conceded and then yeah, time came for me to come on and try and help the team.”
LAFC took a 2-1 lead in the 83rd minute when defender Jesús Murillo headed in Carlos Vela’s corner kick before a capacity crowd announced at 22,384.
Philadelphia tied the score two minutes later when Elliott headed in Wagner’s free kick.
LAFC opened the scoring in the 28th minute when Kellyn Acosta’s approximately 25-yard free kick deflected off the head of leaping midfielder Jack McGlynn, part of the Union’s wall, into the net.
Gazdag tied the score in the 59th minute on a right-footed shot from the center of the penalty area into the center of the net.
LAFC was outshot, 17-16, but led 8-3 in shots on goal.
“We did everything in our power and pushed as hard as we could, but it wasn’t meant to be today,” Union coach Jim Curtin said. “We were close. I’m gutted for our players. They obviously give everything for the badge and for the club and for the city, but kind of at a loss for words because this is a heartbreaking loss, no question.”