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LAFC poised to vindicate high ambitions in first-ever MLS Cup opportunity


MLS Cup 2022 is almost upon us.

Western Conference finalist Los Angeles FC has been a league juggernaut in-waiting since being founded in 2014 and has the opportunity to remove the “in-waiting” tag if it can take care of business against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday.

The team has always been loud. It was born in a city that already had a flagship MLS franchise. Its ownership group consists of the Hollywood elite, and it has managed to assemble fearsome squads year in and year out – all in the pursuit of creating something to be simply defined as “special”.

Few, if any, are more qualified to speak on the matter than Carlos Vela. The 33-year-old was the first-ever signing in club history, has captained it ever since, and for most, is the first person you name when talking about LAFC-related.

“After I met the people, the owners, all the members of the club, I was like, ‘Okay, this can be special. We will work to make this special.’” Vela said when reflecting on his journey with the club that began in 2017.

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Vela, one of only two players remaining from the original LAFC expansion cast alongside Latif Blessing, knows the moment has been in the making since the team’s inception and Saturday offers the opportunity for him to do what he was brought here to do.

“Since the first day, I said I would work really hard,” said Vela. “I will do my best to bring trophies to this club, to make it at least every single year to fight for trophies, and be a really good team,”

There’s no denying the 2022 LAFC squad is the strongest one assembled in the team’s young history and has been one of the most fun teams to watch all season.

“I think we’ve created something really special, not just because we are playing well and are in the final, but we’ve created something around the city. I think people feel connected with us. The people enjoy every single time we play in the Banc (Banc of Califonia Stadium). Our fans make it a party every single game we play there.”

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Needless to say, it won’t be done without great conflict. The flashy and glamorous LAFC side knows its reputation puts an obvious target on its back. The Union, which has assembled a championship contestant in a more unpresuming way, bested LAFC in this year’s MLS award season and has some obvious areas the hosts are looking to neutralize.

There is a mutual respect, though there is a clear clash in philosophies.

“They’re a very good team,” said midfielder Kellyn Acosta. “They’re a team that can score a lot of goals, a team that’s super dynamic, a team that is good on the transition. They had a lot of guys in double-digit goals (3), the Defender of the Year (Jakob Glesnes), the Goalkeeper of the Year (Andre Blake), the Coach of the Year (Jim Curtin).

“They’ve definitely gotten the recognition they’ve deserved,” Acosta added. “It’s going to be a great battle on Saturday. We can look back at the previous game, but that game doesn’t matter. That was so early on in the year,”

The two have played each other hard in the all-time series. LAFC took a win back in 2018 with a drastically different team. The tale of the tape is three ties in the meantime, and the Union certainly takes advantage in the continuity department.

Saturday’s showdown will be the fifth all-time in what could be a modern inter-conference rivalry. It will be the first time in nearly 20 years that the conference one-seeds face off in a final.

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