Philadelphia Union falls to LAFC in MLS Cup Final in penalty shootout

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Philadelphia Union supporters packed the stands and the pitch at Subaru Park for the MLS Cup watch party on Nov. 5, 2022.

The Philadelphia Union fell to the Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) during the penalty shootout on Saturday in their first ever MLS Cup Final.

LAFC goalkeeper and Philadelphia native John McCarthy was named the MLS Cup MVP. After coming on in the 117th minute for Maxime Crepeau, McCarthy didn’t allow a single penalty shot into the net, claiming the title for his club.

The dramatic match took place at the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles. LAFC won their first MLS championship after the game ended three all. The game was decided in penalty kicks. LAFC scored three penalty kicks and the Union scored none.

More than 12,000 Union supporters gathered at Subaru Park in Chester for a watch party.

Seconds after Ilie Sanchez scored the third penalty kick and squashed the Union’s hopes for a win, fans headed straight for the exits — though some still stuck around pondering the Union’s season.

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Joseph Flowers was still leading chants following the match, and says he’s proud of the work the Union put in this year.

“These guys went out and fought their hearts out,” Flowers said. “As fans, we couldn’t ask for anything better. We couldn’t ask for a better venue to watch it from, and we couldn’t ask for a better season.”

His son, Charlie Flowers, got to witness the match on the pitch and was shaking in his boots the entire time.

“It was very, very, very stressful for me,” Flowers said. “That last goal that the other team scored, that was kind of emotional, but they played a good game.”

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Tim Trapp says seeing the Union lose was heartbreaking, but noted how amped up fans were from start to finish.

“Just seeing the crowd here, even when we’re going down goals, people were still cheering for the Union, you know, the Sons of Ben, they had a couple guys here just keeping the spirits up, and I just love that about the fans,” Trapp said.

People stand outside of a stadium.
Thousands of fans showed up to Subaru Park on Nov. 5, 2022 for a Philadelphia Union MLS Cup Final watch party. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

The Union’s inaugural season was in 2010, and Brendan Skwirut has been attending matches ever since. The Union went into the final as an underdog, but the underdog spirit is what made Skwirut embrace the club from the start.

“We like being the underdog,” Skwirut said. “We want to go out there and show people what we’ve got and that’s what fuels us to go out there and play better.”

The Sons of Ben supporters group came out strong to support the club. One of the members, Richard Ransom, has been watching the team since their first season, and he can’t believe how the Union has emerged as one of the best clubs in the MLS.

“Started from the bottom, now we’re here,” Ransom said. It’s apropos, it makes sense now, and here we are at this moment.”

A group of people wearing Philadelphia Union jerseys pose for a photo.
Supporters groups, including members of the Sons of Ben, could be found around Subaru Park soaking up the vibes on Nov. 5, 2022. (Cory Sharber/WHYY)

Philadelphia finished at the top of the Eastern Conference this year, led by 2022 MLS Coach of the Year Jim Curtin. The team’s success was propelled by a supporting cast of four players who made the MLS Best XI list, including Defender of the Year Jakob Glesnes and Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake.

Saturday’s match could be the last time midfielder Paxten Aaronson appears in a Union kit. Reports suggest that Aaronson will sign with German Bundesliga club Eintracht Frankfurt for an initial transfer fee of $4 million.

He’ll be following in the footsteps of his brother, Brenden Aaronson, who transferred from the Union to FC Red Bull Salzburg in Austria. Brendan has since signed with Premier League club Leeds United, who are currently 13th in EPL standings.

On the other side of the pitch, LAFC finished the regular season at the top of Western Conference standings and won the Supporters Shield — given to the team with the best record across the entire league. Saturday’s victory gave the club a league double for the season.

Los Angeles is led by captain Carlos Vela, a forward also on the MLS Best XI list. He’s joined by five-time UEFA Champions League winner Gareth Bale, who scored a header in the 128th minute to send the match into a penalty shootout.

This was the first MLS Cup final since 2003 that featured the top teams from both conferences.

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