LOS ANGELES — LAFC will host the 2022 MLS Cup final against either the Philadelphia Union or New York City FC after a dominant 3-0 win over Austin FC in Sunday’s Western Conference final at Banc of California Stadium.
A Cristian Arango header and an own goal from Austin’s Maximiliano Urruti, both from Carlos Vela corners, put LAFC in complete control of a one-sided contest. Substitute Kwadwo Opoku added a late third in the 81st minute to confirm the Black and Gold’s place in its first MLS Cup.
The Supporters’ Shield winners, and top seeds in the MLS playoffs, now await the winners of the Eastern Conference final to be played later on Sunday.
LAFC fans unveiled a dramatic Halloween-themed tifo ahead of kickoff and the hosts proceeded to slash Austin FC apart in the opening 45 minutes.
For Josh Wolff’s side, which had enjoyed a hugely impressive second season in MLS after struggling in its inaugural campaign, a first appearance in a Western Conference final turned into a horror show.
Time and again Austin, which finished second behind LAFC in the Western Conference during the regular season, failed to deal with long passes over its defense combined with the clever runs of LAFC’s attackers.
The second of those occasions directly led to the opening goal. A combination of Austin defender Julio Cascante and goalkeeper Brad Stuver were able to block behind after Bouanga got to a ball over the top ahead of Stuver and rounded him before shooting on goal.
But from the resulting corner, LAFC finally took the lead. Austin’s marking left plenty to be desired as Arango was allowed to stoop to head into the roof of the net after getting ahead of his marker to meet a Vela corner in the center of the penalty box.
Vela could have added to LAFC’s lead before the interval, taking a long pass from Jesus Murillo brilliantly into his stride but shooting straight at Stuver.
LAFC’s command of proceedings in the opening half was demonstrated by Austin having to wait until the second minute of stoppage time to have their first, harmless, effort at goal.
And there was no letup at the start of the second half.
Arango had already twice forced saves out of the besieged Stuver when he might have found the net, before LAFC’s lead was doubled from another set-piece. This time Vela’s in-swinging corner got a decisive touch of Urruti, whose first real contribution after coming on at halftime saw the ball strike his head and bounce into the corner of the net from six yards.
There looked to be no way back for Austin until they were given a fleeting moment of hope when Diego Fagundez went down on the edge of the penalty area after his foot appeared to be clipped by LAFC’s halftime substitute Sebastien Ibeagha. After a long VAR check, though, no penalty was awarded.
And with that went Austin’s last realistic chance for its fairytale season to end with an MLS Cup appearance.
All that was left was for LAFC to put the final shine on the result and give the game a scoreline that reflected its dominance over the 90 minutes.
With nine minutes remaining, LAFC’s constant pressing paid further dividends as a a harried intervention from Fagundez bounced kindly for Opoku just outside the box and he drilled a left-foot shot into the bottom corner of Stuver’s net.
The celebrations at a raucous Banc of California could begin early as LAFC, in their fifth season in the league and first under new coach Steve Cherundolo, could look forward to contesting MLS’ showpiece matchup for the first time.
Source : ESPN.com