The 2023 MLS Cup Final will be played on Saturday December 9

Columbus Crew
Dec 2, 2023; Crew players (from left) Steven Moreira, Diego Rossi and Rudy Camacho celebrate in the second half of their Eastern Conference final matchup with FC Cincinnati. Mandatory Credit: The Columbus Dispatch

Columbus Crew and Los Angeles FC will play on Saturday, December 9 with the MLS Cup on the line to the winner. Neither team were top of their conference but they have fought their way through to the decider. The season has seen two distinct playing styles in the conferences. In the east, teams have been all about offence while the west have seen far fewer goals scored, with the top defences coming from this side. 

Sadly, the Canadian teams were not good enough to get seriously involved in the business end of the season. The Vancouver Whitecaps were the best of the three but they came up short in the playoffs against Los Angeles FC, the defending champions who have made it to the MLS Cup Final once more this season.

Both FC Montreal and Toronto FC had poor seasons, primarily because they could not win on the road. Montreal won just two away from home and Toronto failed to win any of their 17 matches they played on the road. It has been a sad fall from grace for Toronto given that they made three MLS Cup finals in a four year span from 2016-2019, winning it all in 2017. 

While there is no Canadian representation on Saturday night, there is an excellent game in prospect as the Columbus Crew host Los Angeles FC. The prices on the betting sites suggest that the bookmakers are expecting this to be a tight game. Are they right? Let’s take a look at the two sides and see how we think the game will go.

Columbus Crew

Columbus finished third in the east this season, closing out with a 16-9-9 record. They scored 67 goals which made them the most potent offence in the entire league. 46 conceded at the other end was a little on the high side compared to the other teams who were in contention so that is something that they could do with tightening up now that they have made it into the final.

Wilfried Nancy is the man in charge in Columbus, making the MLS Cup Final in his first season in charge of the team. Canadian soccer fans will know him from his time as the CF Montreal manager for two seasons. His time in Canada was successful, helping to set a franchise record in wins and points while guiding the team to a second place finish in the east. 

The Crew have twice lifted the MLS Cup, the first time in 2006 and the most recent time in 2020. The second time was while during the pandemic so even though they were at home, there was a crowd of just 1,500 in attendance. They are the host team at the weekend so their fans will be looking forward to having the chance to get there in numbers to support.  

Playing at home has been good to the Crew throughout the season. Of their nine losses over the season, eight of them came on the road, the only time they tasted defeat on their own field was to Inter Miami back in April. 

That has them as favorite’s for the clash with the bookmakers, although they have not got a good record when these teams have played in the past as we will go into in a little more detail further down in the game preview.

Los Angeles F.C

Los Angeles, like their eastern counterparts also finished third in their conference, their end of season record standing 14-10-10. Their success was built on a stout defensive unit who only shipped 39 goals over the course of the 34 game season. They would find the net on 54 occasions themselves which was solid for the west but some way behind the pick of the teams in the other conference. 

This is the second season in charge for Steve Cherundolo who spent his playing career in Germany with Hanover 96. He learnt his trade as a coach at the same team before heading back to the United States. He won 87 caps for the US as a player so he has plenty of experience of pressure games including representing his country at a pair of World Cup Finals.

LA are the defending champions after beating the Philadelphia Union in a penalty shootout. That followed a 3-3 draw and one of the most dramatic endings to any game. Tied 2-2 going into injury time added to the end of the extra time period, the Union scored after four minutes. That should have won them the cup but remarkably LA equalised in the 8th minute of stoppage time courtesy of Gareth Bale to take the match to penalties. That was played in LA but they have to travel for the final this time.

Just a single loss in their last 11 matches shows that they are playing a complete game at present, keeping a clean sheet in five of those. They play better when the other team has more of the ball, defending strongly and catching the other team over committing. They played six games in the regular season when they had 60% of the possession or more, they drew one and lost the other five which is quite a startling figure. With Columbus at home, the Crew look likely to have more of the ball which is going to suit LA perfectly.

Road to the final

The Crew have had to work hard in both of their postseason games so far. They had to go to extra time to beat the Orlando Pirates first up, scoring twice in the additional period to finally get on top. They then took on the winners of the eastern conference, FC Cincinnati when they had to dig deeper still. 2-0 behind after half time, they were still behind by that score at the clock ticked into the final 15 minutes. They managed to level things up via goals in the 75th and 86th minutes before scoring the winner in extra time.  

Los Angeles have maintained their identity in their two postseason games so far. They beat the Seattle Sounders 1-0 in their opening encounter before seeing off the Houston Dynamo 2-0. Seattle had the best defence in the league during the regular season but they were not good offensively so LA, having scored after half an hour in the clash, just shut up shop. A goal in each half saw off the Dynamo with both scores coming late in the period. 

Previous meetings

These teams do not clash often as they play in different conferences, in fact they have only met three times so far. The first of those was in Los Angeles in June 2018 with the home team winning 2-0. Both of those tallies came in the opening 10 minutes. The Crew only managed a single shot on target, never really any threat through the game.

May 2019 was the second meeting with Los Angeles once more coming out on top, this time by a 3-0 score in Columbus. That was a little more flattering to LA than it should have been as the match was 1-0 entering the final couple of minutes but goals on 88 and 90 minutes padded the score. Once more, the Crew only had a single shot on target during the game.

The last time that these teams took one another on was in May 2022, also played in Columbus. LA had all the answers once more, winning this game 2-0. Two goals in a 10 minute period in the second half decided this one so that is a perfect 3/3 for LA in games against the Crew, scoring seven goals and keeping three clean sheets. Heading in Columbus again at the weekend will hold no fears for LA.

Key Players

Both teams have a player who makes them tick. As it happens, both are players who manage to find the net on a regular basis for their respective teams and each of them will have an eye on scoring in the MLS Cup Final in a bid to add a cherry to the top of the cake this season.

Cucho Hernandez

Although he is only 24 years of age, Cucho has a wealth of experience across the top leagues in Europe. He has represented three different teams in La Liga, the highest level of competition in Spain as well as a short spell playing for Watford in the Premier League in England.

There was little in the way of success in either league for the Colombian with five goals each for Mallorca and Watford in the respective leagues as well as he managed. Since moving to the US he has been given much more playing time and that has reaped rewards. He scored nine times in just 16 games last season for the Crew and has added a further 16 this season.

He is heading into the peak of his career now, fourth in the MLS in goal scoring this season, a smart total for a player who has often been considered undersized to play in the more physical leagues around the world. 

A win in the cup could see him more on the radar for his country, just a single game for them this year and without a goal since scoring a brace against Costa Rica in 2018. With the World Cup being played in the US, Canada and Mexico in 2026, it would be a perfect time for him to get back into the thinking of Nestor Lorenzo who has been in charge for a little over a year.

Carlos Vela

The Mexican has only scored nine times this season so he is not the top scorer for LA but he has netted the last twice that these teams have met so he will be hoping that he can continue that streak and get his name on the scoresheet on the biggest day of the year.

He is the Los Angeles captain so the honour of the occasion will not be lost on him having lifted the cup last season. His long career has not seen too many trophies come his way so there is no doubt that he will be just as hungry this season to land another MLS Cup as he was 12 months ago. 

There is a chance that this will be the last game that Vela plays for LA having been with the franchise since day one. If that is the case, then there is no bigger stage for him to go out on with no need for any additional motivation to get the job done at the weekend in the MLS Cup Final.

Match Prediction

LeoVegas Free Bet

This is an interesting puzzle to try and unpick. The top offence in the league are at home which in theory could tilt things massively in their favour but they are yet to even score against their opponents in the past so it is no surprise to see that there is little in the difference in the market. 

Prices are in the region of +140 Columbus, +170 LA and +230 for the draw so the bookmakers are sitting on the fence a bit here. With so much on the line, it would not be a surprise to see this start off quite cagey with both teams just sussing one another out but there should be goals, even with the top defence in action.

The teams ranked first and third in the entire league this season in expected goals, the Crew only failing to find the net in two games all season. With both of the games in the playoffs for the Crew heading into extra time, this is the way that we will be looking here. The draw after 90 minutes makes most appeal but we do think that when all is said and done, it will be Los Angeles FC who lifts the MLS Cup for the second year in a row, perhaps on penalties again. 

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