Capped by a thrilling final with a goal scored in the 8th minute of added time in extra time, the 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs were a spectacle for soccer fans across the United States. Fourteen teams took part in the competition, seven from each conference with the winners of both getting byes. New York City FC were the defending champions, and entered as the third seed in the east, while two teams, Austin FC and FC Cincinnati, were making their playoff debuts in their second and fourth years in the league, respectively. With each round decided by a single match, tension was high, and so were the levels of excitement.
In the Eastern Conference, FC Cincinnati came back from a goal down away to New York Red Bulls to win, 2-1, thanks to Brandon Vázquez’s strike four minutes from time. Second-seeded CF Montréal defeated Orlando City SC at home, 2-0, thanks to goals from Ismaël Koné and Djordje Mihailovic. Finally, in the third match, NYCFC cruised into the conference semifinals thanks to a comfortable home win over Inter Miami.
The Western Conference, then, was home to plenty of drama, as two of the three matches in the opening round went to penalty shootouts. Julián Araujo’s goal was the only one of the match as LA Galaxy beat Nashville SC and MVP Hany Mukhtar, while a last-minute penalty from top scorer Sebastián Driussi allowed Austin FC to reach a shootout and beat Real Salt Lake, the visitors having taken a two-goal lead. FC Dallas and Minnesota United also went to penalties, with the hosts winning the shootout 5-4.
The conference semifinals started out with the Philadelphia Union, who had edged Montréal for top spot in the Eastern Conference, getting the only goal of the game from Leon Flach to beat FC Cincinnati. In the other match, New York City FC again impressed, putting three goals past hosts Montréal to win, 3-1.
In the Western Conference, we were treated to a pair of rivalries, as El Trafíco pitted top seed LAFC against LA Galaxy. Summer signing Denis Bouanga scored twice for the hosts, but a late goal from fellow former Ligue 1 player Samuel Grandsir looked to have sent the match to extra time before Cristian Arango popped up in the second minute of injury time to win the match, 3-2. In Texas, Austin got early goals from Driussi and Moussa Djitté, which would be enough for a 2-1 win against FC Dallas.
After the drama of the previous round, the Conference Finals were rather comfortable wins for each of the top seeds. LAFC beat Austin FC, 3-0, with Arango and Kwadwo Opoku among the goalscorers. In the Eastern Conference, NYCFC took an early lead through Maxi Morález but hosts Philadelphia responded with three goals in the span of fifteen second-half minutes to earn a 3-1 win and trip to Los Angeles for the Final.
If LAFC fans thought they’d had enough excitement in reaching the Final, they could hardly have been prepared for Saturday’s match. Kellyn Acosta opened the scoring just before the half hour mark, but Philadelphia responded on the hour through Dániel Gazdag. The home fans were ecstatic when Jésus Murillo fired home seven minutes from time, but the Union answered again to send the match to extra time, level at two goals apiece. The Union would then pull ahead in the fourth minute of added time, but Gareth Bale responded in the eighth with a fantastic goal to send the match to penalties, where LAFC would capture the title by winning the shootout, 3-0!
After the excitement of these playoffs, we can’t wait for next year’s Leagues Cup!