It has been quite a season around Major League Soccer, but before it comes to a close, a champion must be determined. MLS Cup will take place Saturday at Lower.com field between the Columbus Crew and Los Angeles FC, both of whom have lifted the cup in the last three years. LAFC are looking to win the league for the second consecutive season, while the Crew are looking to reward Wilfried Nancy's impressive work in his first season in charge. These have been two of the best attacks in the league this season as the three seeds from each conference ended up being the final teams standing. But in what will be a close fought affair, what are the keys to the match?
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1. Will experience matter?
LAFC are a team that has been there and done that. They won MLS Cup last season and while Gareth Bale may be gone after netting the winner in extra time of that affair, most of the team that lifted the cup is still there under Steve Cherundolo. But it's not only MLS Cup, the Black and Gold have also made deep runs into Concacaf Champions League as well. And even before joining LAFC thanks to the caliber of players recruited, this is an experienced side. For the Crew, Aidan Morris played in the 2020 MLS Cup triumph while Darlington Nagbe missed the match due to COVID. But with the Crew having home field advantage for the final, it may not matter. Nancy has been adamant about how preparation for MLS Cup is the same as for any other game but it's one thing to say that and another to keep composure when the lights shine brightest.
2. Which forward makes a bigger impact?
Denis Bouanga for LAFC and Cucho Hernandez on Columbus have been excellent in every way, giving each defense quite a task to deal with. Columbus have allowed six goals in the playoffs only shutting out Atlanta without Thiago Almada and a 10 man Orlando City side. Attacking has been their best defense so far. Playing in such an open match could favor LAFC who scored the most goals in a playoff match this season, putting five past the Vancouver Whitecaps. Bounaga and Ryan Hollingshead both had braces in the match, which is a nice reminder that if you focus too much on the forwards, their defenders, like Hollingshead can also make you pay. Soccer is usually a game of inches, but if these teams get those inches, each of them are so good they can turn that space into chances which will make this a high paced exciting final.
3. Maxime Crepeau can make a difference
When focusing on these teams, it's hard to not focus on the attacks and for good reasons, but in Maxime Crepeau, LAFC have a not so secret weapon in net. Preventing 4.3 goals (according to Opta's post-shot expected goal model) in four playoff games, Crepeau has been excellent in net during playoffs. Beginning the season injured, he didn't debut until September of 2023 after regaining fitness in MLS Next Pro but once Crepeau got going, he picked up right where he left off and has made 17 saves in the playoffs so far. facing Cucho and Diego Rossi, the LAFC man will be called into action so all eyes will be on his performance in keeping the ball out of the net.
How to watch and odds
- Date: Saturday, Dec. 9 | Time: 4 p.m. ET
- Location: Lower.com Field -- Columbus, Ohio
- TV: FOX | Live stream: MLS Season Pass
- Odds: Columbus Crew +115; Draw +240; LAFC +230
The Crew will cap off what has been a magical playoff run by lifting MLS Cup behind a brace from star man Cucho. Score: Columbus Crew 2, LAFC 1