Los Angeles Football Club has played in some important matches over its five year history; it's reached the semifinal of both the U.S. Open Cup and MLS Playoffs, as well as the final of the CONCACAF Champions League. At this moment, however, LAFC is on the verge of hosting its first MLS Cup final against the Philadelphia Union, with a chance to complete a feat in Major League Soccer that's been achieved only seven times in 26 years: winning both the Supporters’ Shield and the MLS Cup. D.C. United (1997, 1999) and the Galaxy (2002, 2011) have achieved it twice, while the Columbus Crew (2008) and Toronto FC (2017) have each done it a single time. It is extremely rarified air that LAFC hope to reach with a victory on Saturday. The players are aware of and prepared for that challenge.

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SOMETHING SPECIAL

LAFC announced the signing of Carlos Vela, its very first player, on August 10, 2017. Since then, Vela has grown into the role of captain for the Black & Gold, finished three of LAFC's five seasons with double digit goals as well as assists, won a Most Valuable Player award and set the MLS single goal scoring record at 34. He led LAFC to the final of the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League. And yet, he stands at the verge of his biggest challenge in an LAFC shirt.

"I think every single part of the club [is] important because when you are building a team, you have to project something to the players or the people you want to sign,” Vela said. “If they come with something, like, ‘Oh, we are a new team, but you can come if you want and let's see what happens,’ of course you would not sign for them. But that was not the case. Every time I spoke with them, it was like ‘We want to create something special, We want to win.’ We want[ed] people really to commit with the team, with the club, with the culture and create something special. I said from the first day that this club is special. I want to make the club special. I work every single day to make it so it is.”

Vela has experienced great individual success for LAFC, but has also grown exponentially as a leader and a person during his time in Los Angeles. His commitment to the team and to its collective goal invigorates everyone around him, and now, just 90 minutes for the glory the club has strived for since 2018, he understands the moment the club is in.

"This is a really good chance for us, for myself, to do something good for them and get something back for the fans, for the club, for families, for everybody that's involved in this club. I think we are in a good position to do something good, to really say we made something special," said Vela. "I think this game is really good, really important, and we have to enjoy it and of course bring everything, because it's the most important game for this club, so we have to be in that status."

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THE MENTAL GAME

Throughout the summer and fall, as LAFC pursued the Supporters' Shield, coaches and players said all of the right things. The team took the season one game at a time, whether in a high or low moment, and never lost its focus, even through a difficult stretch at the end of the summer. In the postseason, it's been exactly the same, with head coach Steve Cherundolo helping to maintain the perspective of completing the goal, and LAFC followed up its sterling performance against the Galaxy with a dominant one again vs. Austin FC. Now, there is just one more match to reach the mountain top, and LAFC is prepared for it.

"It's been a whirlwind. There's a lot going on, a lot of movement. For me, I enjoy the game. I'm just so excited just for the weekend,” said LAFC midfielder Kellyn Acosta. "But as far [as tactics] and all that goes, I always tell Steve Cherundolo, I'm tired of hearing him talk sometimes because he loves meetings, and he loves giving us all the details. I think Saturday's matchup, we can talk about all the tactics we want, tactics give us structure, but I think it's more than that to win a game. It's going to be one of those things where you've got to roll up your sleeves and you've got to fight and you've got to battle, and may the best man win."

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TWO NUMBER ONES:

Over the last two decades, the MLS Cup playoffs have been a hotbed of upsets. After years of two-game aggregate rounds that gave lower seeds a great opportunity to overthrow top contenders with regularity, the format changed in 2019 to single-match elimination, but the upsets continued. Now, for the first time since the 2003 MLS Cup Final, the number one seeds of each conference will face off for the Cup. LAFC has had an amazing season to this point, but the Philadelphia union have kept pace step for step. If not for a late season 4-0 loss to Charlotte FC, this final match might be played in Philly, with the Union holding the Shield. That late season blemish aside, Philadelphia is an extremely talented squad that will be playing with a chip on its shoulder. 

"They're a very good team. 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 have a lot of guys with double-digit goals, the Defender of the Year, the Goalkeeper of the Year, the Coach of the Year," said Acosta. "They've definitely gotten the recognition they've deserved. It's going to be a great battle on Saturday." 

LAFC and the Philadelphia Union have played some sterling matches in recent history, the majority of which have ended in stalemates. In 2019, the Union earned a point against LAFC in a 1-1 draw in southern Pennsylvania. In 2020, the final match before the pandemic shut down the league was a 3-3 barn burner at the Banc. Earlier this season, the two squads played to a 2-2 draw. LAFC have the only victory in this series historically, but that 4-1 victory came way back in June of 2018. None of those matches will matter Saturday; both teams have different rosters now than they did on May 7th, and current form means more than anything else. LAFC are in a moment from which they hope to emerge victorious, but the only way to do so is to live and execute in the present. 

"We can look back at the previous game, but that game doesn't matter. That was so early on in the year. I think now we're both two different teams now, and it's one of those things where it's going to just be more than just what we've done in the past," said Acosta. "I think this game is going to have a little bit of everything, and I think from our standpoint, we've got to be up for the intense matchup.”

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