December 25, 2022

This soccer match seems very familiar...

Have I seen this before?

In late 2022, the world was entranced by a high-stakes soccer match between two elite teams with a grand trophy at stake. The game ended 2-2 after full time, 3-3 after extra time, and was decided by penalty kick shootout.

Given this description, most people would think I am referring to the FIFA World Cup final in December 2022 between Argentina and France. While it matches the rough description, I am actually referring to MLS Cup 2022, the 27th edition of Major League Soccer's annual championship, held in November 2022.

MLS Cup 2022 saw the two best teams in the league, Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) and the Philadelphia Union, face off for the championship trophy -- a prize neither team had previously won. The two teams tied for the league lead in points, and both won their way through the playoffs to reach MLS Cup.

Sparks fly every time these two teams meet. The 2020 matchup between these teams also ended 3-3, which included my vote for the most extraordinary goal in MLS history and which also happened to be the very last MLS game played before the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. The 2022 regular season matchup between LAFC and Philadelphia was a 2-2 humdinger.

The scoreline (before penalties) of 2022 MLS Cup was identical to that of the 2022 World Cup final, after full time and after extra time -- but MLS Cup had layer upon layer of drama and intrigue beyond that of the World Cup final. In the 110th minute of extra time, LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau blocked Philadelphia's Corey Burke to the goal; Crepéau got a DOGSO red card, broke his leg in the process, and had to leave the stadium in an ambulance. LAFC had to substitute in theirbackup goalkeeper, John McCarthy (not to be confused by the AI / Lisp pioneer of the same name), who was born in Philadelphia, attended La Salle University in Philadelphia, and played for the Philadelphia Union for four years as backup for the current starting goalkeeper for the Union, Andre Blake.

Because of the Crepéau injury, an unheard-of nine minutes of second-half extra-time stoppage time was added, during which the record for the latest goal in MLS history was broken twice. Gareth Bale's goal in the 128th minute made him the first player to score in an MLS Cup final and a UEFA Champions League final.

But back to McCarthy. John McCarthy had played a grand total of zero minutes in 2022, and was now thrust into the role of blocking shots against his old team in a penalty shootout with MLS Cup on the line. McCarthy, though, was deemed a penalty-shot specialist, and he saved two of the three shots he faced (a third shot was missed), earning MLS Cup Most Valuable Player honors and MLS Cup for LAFC.

The World Cup final was impressive -- it included a hat trick, three penalties, and a World Cup championship for one of the greatest players of our time. But MLS Cup 2022 was extraordinary, and immediately deemed by everyone as the greatest MLS game ever played.

And there's one additional connection between the two games: The fourth official for the 2022 World Cup Final, Ismail Elfath, was the lead referee for MLS Cup.