The Los Angeles Football Club has enjoyed immense success since joining Major League Soccer in 2018, winning two Supporters' Shields, reaching the CONCACAF Champions League Final and scoring more goals and registering more regular season wins than any other MLS team in the last half decade.
After heartbreaking defeats in the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2018, 2019 and 2020 – LAFC has finally reached the Final in its fifth season.
As Supporter Shield Champions, LAFC's path to the championship is three home wins. The first, a 3-2 victory over the crosstown rival Galaxy, is being hailed as one of the greatest matches in MLS history. The second match on Oct. 30 in the Western Conference Final against Austin FC, currently stands as the greatest moment in LAFC's brief history. There is still a trophy to be won, but for a few more hours, we can bask in the afterglow of reaching the MLS Cup Final.
"It's an amazing atmosphere here. It makes me feel right at home. It is my home, but my home away from home, my second home here," said LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo. "It's an incredible atmosphere, and you know, this is for the fans and it's also for everybody at the organization who has worked so hard in the past seven years to put this club and organization on the map, to build it the right way, and for the right reasons: to win for the city and the fans. I think you experienced it tonight. The next game is for L.A. and our fans."
Those fans Cherundolo spoke of entered Banc of California Stadium with a quiet confidence on Sunday; once the tifo began to rise, the stadium's volume increased, and from the moment Cristian Arango scored the first goal in the 29th minute, the crowd noise in the Banc was deafening.
Where in 2019, LAFC was the young upstart coming off an amazing second season facing the much longer established Seattle Sounders, this year, Austin FC was the team coming off a successful sophomore campaign and LAFC was the more experienced combatant. It showed on the field, and on the stat sheet. LAFC outshot Austin FC (22-7) and LAFC won the possession and passing battles and were the more physical side.
After the match, LAFC's head coach and players reflected on what they had accomplished but were very mindful that in the words of the late Kobe Bryant ‘The job is not finished.’
"You know, the goal this year is the MLS Cup. At the end of the day, we have had success so far. Getting the shield was amazing in Portland, and obviously we want to top it off, the cherry on the top would be the Cup here at home in front of our supporters. The whole organization was looking towards the moment and the roster was built for that moment," said LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau. "Everything, everybody is content with the win, the 3-0, but there's still that bubble in our head that is like, job is not done, not satisfied enough. I think the group has the mentality of going all the way. The mentality of the guys is, one more."
LAFC and Philadelphia have been the two best teams in the league since the Black & Gold joined in 2018. They sport nearly identical winning percentages over the last five years – and it always has seemed like these two teams were on a collision course for the Cup. Before the Eastern Conference Final between LAFC defender Ryan Hollingshead said he wanted the Union, and got his wish later that evening.
"It would be pretty fitting for it to be the Union and play against a team that we were fighting for the Supporters Shield with all year long,” Hollingshead said. “We have been the top teams in the league all season, so it will be a great game.”