Tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 PM EST kickoff, the Philadelphia Union will play in their biggest game in franchise history against Los Angeles FC at Banc of California Stadium. The Union and LAFC were the two best teams in MLS this season and they displayed their strengths all throughout the season. Philadelphia will play in the MLS Cup Final for the first time in club history. Up to now, the Union have had the best season in team history considering their dominance in the regular season and their run at home in the playoffs. To put this dominance into perspective, the Union have won 11 straight home MLS matches including the playoffs, which equals the longest single-season home winning streak in league history.
On the other side, LAFC have also had an incredible season and won the Supporters Shield by a very close margin. Another impressive statistic to keep in mind heading into the matchup is since 2019, LAFC and the Union have accumulated the most regular season points in MLS history with 216 and 223 points, respectively. LAFC finished the season with a 21-9-4 for 67 points and a goal differential of 28 while the Union completed the year with a mark of 19-5-10 for 67 points and a goal differential of 46.
The Union and LAFC have found success by using two different strategies. On the one hand, LAFC have the sixth-highest MLS wage at $19 million while the Union have the second-lowest MLS wage at $10.4 million. This goes to show that Ernst Tanner has not had to pay boatloads of money to acquire star players but instead has developed younger academy players and spent minimal sums of money on the team’s strikers and midfield. Defender Kai Wagner only cost $200,000, midfielder Jose Martinez was acquired for $325,000, defender Jakob Glesnes cost $375,000, and midfielder Leon Flach only took $200,000. Each of these players and more have made valuable impacts on the team in their time spent with the club thus far.
Midfielder Dániel Gazdag, Glesnes, goalkeeper Andre Blake (the first goalie in MLS history to acquire three Best XI selections), and Wagner were all named to the MLS Best XI and this is a testament to their hard work and commitment to the team. Gazdag recorded a club-record 32 goal contributions with 22 goals and 10 assists this year, and Glesnes was the only outfield player in MLS to play all 3,060 minutes this season as the Union defense allowed the fewest goals in a 34-game regular season in MLS history. Wagner became the first defender in MLS history to tally 15 assists in a single season, and Blake registered 15 clean sheets for the second most in a single season in MLS history, as he only allowed 0.76 goals per game.
On the other side, LAFC’s forward Carlos Vela was named to the MLS Best XI after producing 12 goals and 11 assists this season. This is Vela’s third selection in the past five years as he is also one of just five active MLS players to earn three Best XI selections and is the lone Mexican in MLS history to accomplish this honor. Forward Cristian Arango led LAFC in goals with 16, Vela led the team in assists, and midfielders José Cifuentes and Diego Palacios tied for the second-highest assists on the club with seven.
This will certainly be a tough task for the Union but if there was one team this season that could take down this dominant LAFC side, it would be the Philadelphia Union. Manager Jim Curtin will have the squad prepared and ready to go as they look to win their first championship trophy in club history. As for the Union faithful, they will be fired up and cheering on their squad at multiple watch parties in Philadelphia, including the largest one at Subaru Park.
"Featured Image: Wes Shepherd/Philadelphia Sports Nation"