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MLS Cup: Columbus Crew beat LAFC 2-1 to win title

Saturday marked the end of the 2023 Major League Soccer season with Columbus Crew prevailing 2-1 against Los Angeles FC in this year's MLS Cup final.

It is the third time the Crew have lifted the trophy, having last done so in 2020, and it comes at the end of head coach Wilfried Nancy's first season in charge.

As for LAFC, they failed to repeat their heroics of 2022, when they defeated Philadelphia Union to win the MLS Cup for the first time, and it is back to the drawing board for Steve Cherundolo's side.

Crew make home advantage count to secure third MLS Cup

Columbus Crew were one of the most entertaining sides to watch in MLS this year and they stuck by their guns throughout the playoffs and in Saturday's final.

Nancy's side finished third in the MLS Eastern Conference behind Cincinnati and Orlando City but they were the league's highest scorers with 67 goals - they averaged 1.97 goals per game during the regular season.

And their possession-focused style of play also carried them through some tough postseason engagements as they took down Atlanta United in three matches, edged Orlando 2-0 and then won an all-Ohio MLS Conference Final with Cincy 3-2 at the start of the month.

As their points haul of 57 was higher than that of LAFC's - and indeed the rest of the Western Conference - they went into the MLS Cup final with home advantage at Field.

And they quickly ensured they made the most of the advantage, breaking the deadlock from the penalty spot after 33 minutes through Cucho Hernandez.

They capitalised on a lapse in LAFC concentration to double their advantage only four minutes later through Yaw Yeboah and the place was rocking.

Yeboah's strike came after a string of 11 passes as Nancy's men stuck to their principles of short passing and patient build-up play to unlock one of the strongest opponents in LAFC.

The result is made more impressive by the fact it has been a turbulent last 12 months or so for the club with Nancy's arrival and changes in personnel, most notably the loss of Lucas Zelarayan - who was considered one of the best players in the division.

Columbus Crew coped, though, and can celebrate a third MLS Cup triumph after going the distance three years ago and in 2008.

LAFC fail to defend title after falling behind

LAFC were bidding to become the first team in MLS since 2012 to win back-to-back MLS Cups but it was not meant to be in Ohio.

Columbus Crew having home advantage was always going to work against the Californians and the game was as good as gone after 37 minutes.

It was the first time they trailed a game since their 5-1 win over Minnesota in early October and it could therefore be argued they were not battle-hardened enough heading into the game.

Indeed, LAFC's playoff path was pretty straightforward. They did not even require a third game against Vancouver after beating the Canadians 5-2 and 1-0 and they were comfortably 1-0 and 2-0 winners over Seattle and Houston Dynamo.

It therefore must have come as a bit of a surprise playing in a challenging atmosphere against a Columbus side who loved to dominate the ball and have the players to polish off their free-flowing moves.

Denis Bouanga had given his side a lifeline in the 2-1 defeat with his consolation goal in the 74th minute and his individual growth goes down as a massive win for LAFC this year.

Winger Bouanga has gone from strength to strength in MLS, having netted 38 goals in all competitions this year.

Where LAFC go from here remains to be seen as rumours persist about key personnel including Bouanga as well as Carlos Vela, Giorgio Chiellini and Maxime Crepeay moving on in the offseason.

But Cherundolo will want to keep the group together as they rebuild and look to go again next year.

Cucho at the forefront of another fine attacking performance

When midfield star Zelarayan departed for the Saudi Pro League in July, Columbus Crew needed someone else to step up to the plate and that is exactly what superstar forward Hernandez has done.

Cucho netted 16 goals and laid on 11 assists during the MLS regular season for the Crew with 11 goals having come in the final two months of the campaign as the club solidified their push for the playoffs.

And in the playoffs Hernandez went up a gear again, contributing five goals in six postseason fixtures.

It was fitting then that the former Watford man scored the opener on Saturday, sending veteran shot-stopper Crepeau the wrong way from the penalty spot to put the Crew on track for victory.

Read more: MLS Cup schedule, format, winners, history

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