LAFC routs Austin FC to reach its first MLS Cup

LAFC made sure that the MLS Cup final will be at their house, and in emphatic fashion.

The Supporters’ Shield winners dismantled Austin FC, winning 3-0 on a day where they could have probably doubled their margin of victory. From the opening whistle to full time, it was a truly dominant performance, with goals from Chicho Arango, Kwadwo Opoku, and an own goal from the unfortunate Maxi Urruti.

It spoke to the attacking menace LAFC offers that even a team so defined by a front-foot, aesthetically pleasing style as Austin opted to defend out of a low-ish 4-4-2 block rather than their normally more open approach. Josh Wolff wasn’t asking his players to hoof long balls — a spell of possession between the 7th and 8th minutes saw them connect nearly 20 passes, including one from Ruben Gabrielsen within 40 yards of the LAFC goal — but the men in green were certainly defending for long spells.

While Austin were having some success at luring the home side into unsuccessful pressing attempts, LAFC were still creating all the danger. José Cifuentes crashed a shot off the post in the 17th minute, and as Austin started to move their line up after weathering the initial storm, Brad Stuver had numerous worries on balls in behind for all three LAFC forwards. The biggest of those threats by far saw Stuver misread a diagonal towards Denis Bouanga. The Gabonese winger beat Stuver to it, but his angled shot towards an empty net was blocked behind for a corner.

Unfortunately for Austin, that corner resulted in a goal. Chiellini drew some extra attention on Carlos Vela’s delivery, allowing Arango to slip past Moussa Djitté and head home for a 29th minute opener.

Austin’s choice to stand off of LAFC’s defenders was repeatedly ending with longer-range passes that picked out runs from Bouanga and Vela; if anything, the visitors were in pure survival mode. Stuver made difficult saves on Cifuentes and Vela in the final minutes.

Halftime arrived, and Stats Perform had credited the Verde with just one shot attempt:

The second half continued in the same pattern, with Stuver making saves and Crepeau a spectator. Appropriately, LAFC padded their lead in the same manner, as their set piece dominance all year long paid off again. Urruti had just been sent on as an attacking substitute by Wolff, but his first touch was an unmitigated disaster: unsighted on Vela’s in-swinging service, the ball found his forehead, and he couldn’t react in time to do anything but nod it past Stuver.

Austin were adrift. Even when it seemed that they might be thrown a lifeline when Sebastian Ibeagha stepped on Diego Fagundez’s foot in the LAFC box, referee Armando Villarreal deemed it a clean play, and stuck to his call despite a VAR check revealed clear contact.

For the second-year club, it was just that kind of day. A minute after Crepeau made his first (and only) save of the day, an utterly bizarre bounce gave Opoku a gift at the top of the box, and the young Ghanaian gleefully fired past Stuver in the 81st minute.

Bouanga lashed home a potential fourth with virtually the last kick, only for an offside call to keep the scoreline from more closely reflecting just how big the gulf between the teams was on the day.

LAFC’s win guarantees an MLS Cup final at Banc of California Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 5, with kickoff set for 4 p.m. ET.

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