LAFC claims 1st MLS Cup title with shootout win over Union

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Gareth Bale tied the score 3-3 on a dramatic header in the eighth minute of extra-time stoppage time, backup goalkeeper John McCarthy stopped two Philadelphia shots in the shootout, and Los Angeles FC beat the Union 3-0 on penalty kicks to claim its first MLS Cup championship Saturday.

After Bale came on as a substitute in extra time and scored the tying goal for 10-man LA, Denis Bouanga, Ryan Hollingshead and Ilie Sanchez converted penalty kicks in the shootout, capping the most dramatic of MLS's 27 title games. LA became the eighth team in MLS history to win both the Supporters' Shield as regular-season champion and the MLS Cup playoff tournament.

“This place deserves this,” first-year coach Steve Cherundolo said. “These fans are amazing. They deserve a Cup, and they got it.”

McCarthy, a Philadelphia native and former Union keeper who had exactly one previous game of MLS action for LAFC this season, was forced to come on during the second extra period when starter Maxime Crepeau badly injured a leg while committing a red-card foul on Cory Burke.

McCarthy yielded Jack Elliott's second goal of the game to put Philadelphia ahead in the fourth minute of injury time. Bale entered in the 97th minute and the 33-year-old scored in the eighth of a scheduled nine minutes of stoppage time with a thrilling header for the Welsh superstar's third MLS goal and first in three months.

In the shootout, McCarthy didn't allow a goal on the Union's three attempts, watching Dániel Gazdag slip and sky Philadelphia’s first attempt over the crossbar, then diving to make saves on José Martínez and Kai Wagner. Sánchez then sealed the victory in front of LAFC's ecstatic home crowd.

“You feel for their goalkeeper when he gets stretchered off,” Union coach Jim Curtin said. “(McCarthy is a) great kid, a Philly kid who did great things in Philadelphia. Soccer gods have a funny way of working. I half-joked on the bench that I can’t believe Johnny is going to be there, and it’s probably going to go to penalty kicks.”

Elliott also forced extra time by scoring the tying goal in the 85th minute of regulation for the Union, who rallied from a pair of one-goal deficits in their first MLS Cup final appearance. Philadelphia then took the lead deep in extra time when their English defender set the record for the latest goal in MLS history.

Elliott held that record for only four minutes, until Bale rose and headed home Diego Palacios’ cross.

Bale, who left Real Madrid during the summer with an eye on preparation for Wales’ World Cup appearance later this month, was getting his first minutes with LA since Oct. 2.

Philadelphia rallied back twice in regulation to tie it after the hosts went ahead at Banc of California Stadium, which was packed with black-clad fans anticipating the crowning achievement of their high-profile expansion franchise’s impressive first half-decade, which includes two regular-season league titles.

Kellyn Acosta scored in the first half for LAFC, and Philadelphia top scorer Gazdag tied it early in the second. Jesús David Murillo headed home a tiebreaking goal for LAFC in the 83rd minute off a corner from Carlos Vela, but Elliott evened it again for Philadelphia two minutes later.

The MLS Cup final was an appropriate postseason matchup between the league’s best teams throughout the regular season and two of its most impressive organizations over the past half-decade. LAFC and Philadelphia finished on top of their respective conferences this year with an identical 67 points before surviving the two-game postseason gauntlet to reach both clubs’ first playoff championship game.

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