LAFC stuns Union in a wild final thanks to Gareth Bale and a storybook hero

The Philadelphia Union and LAFC played 36 games and 120 Saturday minutes to the wildest of stalemates. They sparred for over two hours in Major League Soccer’s dream final, trading goals and blows and everything in between. Philly scored a 124th-minute would-be winner. Gareth Bale scored a 127th-minute equalizer. They went to penalties to decide the greatest MLS Cup ever, and once there, up stepped the unlikeliest of heroes.

John McCarthy, a Philadelphia native but backup LAFC keeper, came off the bench to make two massive saves in the shootout and win LAFC its first league title.

The Union thought they’d won it at the death of extra time. Jack Elliott, the 77th overall pick in a mostly-irrelevant draft, seemed to have won the Union their first Cup:

But Gareth Bale, who’d played just six whole minutes for LAFC since mid-September, came off the bench to head home a stunning equalizer three minutes later.

Andre Blake saved LAFC’s first attempt in the shootout. But Daniel Gazdag, with a chance to give Philly an early advantage, slipped and fired over the bar.

Denis Bouanga gave LAFC the shootout lead, then McCarthy stepped up, and the hosts never looked back.

Kellyn Acosta, via a fortunate deflection, had opened the scoring for LAFC early:

But the Union never succumbed to the pressure naturally applied by star power and stage and constant singing all around them.

They went into halftime at 1-0 and still confident.

Fourteen minutes after they returned to the field, thanks to a lovely first touch and finish from Daniel Gazdag, they were tied:

Philly grew into the game from there. Rhythm was elusive, and that favored the underdogs.

LAFC went ahead again in the 83rd minute. Jesús Murillo dashed to the near post and nodded the hosts back into the lead:

But just a minute after play restarted, Elliott equalized:

LAFC almost won it in the 95th minute, but Ryan Hollingshead stabbed and missed at a close-range chance.

The Union could’ve won it, but had to settle for a man advantage in the second half of extra time when LAFC keeper Maxime Crépeau took down Cory Burke. Both players were injured in the challenge. Crépeau’s injury was serious, and caused a minutes-long stoppage. He was both red carded and carted off.

But that paved the way for McCarthy, a career backup who stepped up and won the game for LAFC.

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