The Philadelphia Union and Los Angeles Football Club meet in the MLS Cup Saturday. In a rare battle between each of the 1 seeds, LAFC and the Union come from 2 different ideals.
First, a little background on the matchup. The LA-Union final will be the first MLS Cup final between the 1 seeds since 2003. So much for the curse of the first-round bye.
LA and the Union finished level on points. With LA getting the Supporters Shield (and home field for the Final) on the total wins tiebreaker. The two sides met early in the season in a thrilling 2-2 draw.
LA and the Union always show out for one another. The last meeting before that, a 3-3 draw in 2020 just days before the COVID-19 pandemic would explode to what it was. The Union took the lead in that game 3 separate times. Including the famous Jacob Glesnes 40+ yard free kick goal.
If the league wanted an entertaining final, there might not have been a better matchup.
LAFC joined MLS in 2018. Right from the jump, they have been contenders and entertainers.
Sharing a city with the well-established and historic LA Galaxy, LAFC had to come out of the gates firing. This meant they didn’t waste time establishing homegrown talent like their MLS Cup opponent. With great players like Carlos Vela and Diego Rosi, LAFC came into MLS firing. Winning the Supporters Shield in their 2nd ever season in 2019. Then, followed it up with a second-place finish in the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League.
2021 was a setback for LAFC. Missing the playoffs entirely and moving on from head coach Bob Bradley. However, in 2022 they rebounded more than many expected.
In the City of Angels, they attracted and paid for the stars. European greats Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini joined LAFC.
After winning their 2nd Supporters Shield in their 5-year history, LAFC now looks for their first MLS Cup to go along with it.
The Philadelphia Union
Take everything noted about LAFC and now throw it away. The Union is the polar opposite.
While the Union has never been the worst team in MLS, they had never been the best either. Coming into MLS in 2010, they didn’t win their first playoff game until 2019. However, from that point on they have been in the top class of MLS.
The Union followed their first playoff win in 2019 by bringing home the Supporters Shield in 2020. Albeit in a pandemic-shortened season. Then, in 2021 they would finish 2nd in the Eastern Conference and tear through the playoffs before a massive COVID outbreak led to their demise in the 2021 Eastern Conference Final.
However, the Union righted the wrongs of 2021. Going on a historic 2022 season that would lead to multiple broken records. Both team records and league records. Finally, the icing on the cake being revenge on NYCFC to win the Eastern Conference. With the win, earning a trip to LA for their first-ever MLS Cup appearance.
LAFC-Union: Polar Oposite
The Union didn’t get here by making flashy signings. They didn’t have the world’s biggest celebrities in the stands. Lastly, they certainly didn’t get to this point by playing the sport in a super fun-to-watch way.
The Union got here because Jim Curtin spent years laying the foundation of a team that would go on to become a juggernaut.
LAFC spent a total of approximately $13 million dollars for their attacking trio of Bouanga, Arango, and Vela.
The Philadelphia Union built its entire starting 11 on approximately $7.2 million dollars. Tom Bogert created a fantastic graphic to show this.
Kai Wagner, the league’s best LB, was acquired for $200k. MLS Defender of the year Jacob Glesnes, $375k. Best Defensive MF Jose “El Brujo” Martinez, $325. Finally, Jack Elliott and Andre Blake were MLS SuperDraft picks. Jack Elliott went in the 4th round!
The Union doesn’t sign established stars as LA does. That is no knock on LA, they just don’t have time to build their own stars in their situation.
The Union suffered through years of mediocrity laying this foundation and the benefits are being felt now. The Union sign projects and develop talent to their potential.
Notice how the Union Academy, which has produced stars like Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie, hasn’t even been mentioned.
The Union does not buy stars for millions of dollars. They create them.
MLS Cup Final
The MLS Cup final could be an all-time classic. It showcases two very different ways teams can establish themselves as a dynasty.
For the Philadelphia Union or LAFC, their first MLS Cup awaits them.
Featured Image: Wes Shepherd/PHLSportsNation