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LAFC lose back-to-back title bid as Columbus Crew win MLS Cup 2-1

Press pause on the Drake song, there will be no back-to-back titles for LAFC.

The 28th MLS season ended with a rainstorm, as the Columbus Crew defeated the defending champion LAFC, 2-1, on Saturday night at the Historic Crew Stadium in Ohio.

In a historic MLS season that saw the greatest soccer player of all-time join the league, the Crew put the exclamation mark on an incredible 2023 campaign.

Just a few years ago, the Crew were on the brink of extinction, but thanks to the city of Columbus, they found new ownership, a new stadium, and now their third MLS Cup trophy in team history.

Three years after defeating the Seattle Sounders 3-0 at their old stadium in front of only 1,500 people because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Crew once again overcame the odds to win the championship.

Almost a year ago to the day, the Crew announced that they had hired former CF Montreal manager Wilfried Nancy to take over head coaching duties. It took some time for the team to find their identity, struggling through the first half of the season before rising up the table to finish third in the Eastern Conference.

The Crew’s season had more twists and turns than a roller coaster ride. They found themselves among the teams at the bottom of the table at the end of May with just five wins on the season.

Columbus then ran off an eight-game unbeaten streak and rolled through the MLS Cup Playoffs.

After defeating Atlanta United FC two games to one, in the opening round, they won back-to-back road games defeating heavily favored Orlando City SC 2-0, and stunning Supporter’s Shield Winners FC Cincinnati in a 3-2 come-from-behind extra time Hell is Real thriller.

Weather played an important role in the Final on Saturday night. Intermittent rain and thunderstorms hovered over the match, with both teams forging through a torrential downpour midway through the first half.

LAFC, seeking to become the first back-to-back champions since the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2011-12, were bitten by bad-luck early in the match.

Ecuadorian left-back, Diego Palacios, known affectionately as “Chiqui,” was whistled for a handball in the box in the 32nd minute.

Cucho Hernandez converted the penalty kick and Columbus had an early 1-0 lead.

The Crew made it two in a matter of minutes as defender Malte Amundsen delivered a spectacular ball to midfielder Yaw Yeobah who slipped past the LAFC defense for the easy insurance goal in the 37th minute.

The rain and the pace picked up in the second half, as LAFC pulled one back thanks to 2023 MLS Golden Boot winner Denis Bouanga.

Bouanga received a cross inside the box from Jesus Murillo for a wide-open shot in front of the net. Columbus goalkeeper Patrick Schulte denied the striker, but Bouanga followed his shot and slotted the rebound past defenders for the Black and Gold’s first goal.

The victory came in front of a raucous and rowdy capacity crowd of nearly 20,000 fans adorned in black and yellow. They supplied the sound and the color throughout the match with the Crew’ supporters pounding on drums and yelling demonstratives at LAFC from behind the net.

The match might have marked the final time that forward Carlos Vela will take the field in an LAFC uniform. The longtime captain signed with the Black and Gold before their inaugural season in 2018, won the MLS MVP Award in 2019, and helped LAFC lift the trophy in 2022.

But Vela, in the final year of his contract, has not scored in 13 consecutive matches, the longest scoring drought of his career.

Vela reunited with former LAFC teammate, Diego Rossi, who joined him in Los Angeles in 2018. Rossi left the team in 2021, and signed with the Crew in the offseason.

Columbus dominated possession, holding the ball for nearly 63 percent of the time. They also attempted more shots than LAFC, 14-to-10. The biggest discrepancy however came on corner kicks, where the Crew held a whopping 8-to-1 advantage.

The loss for LAFC marks their second loss in a final this season. The Black and Gold lost the CONCACAF Champions League final to Liga MX side León 1-0 at BMO Stadium in the second leg.

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Source: NBC Los Angeles

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