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MLS Cup Playoffs: Top performers

Major League Soccer is done for another season.

Last Saturday, Columbus Crew lifted the MLS Cup at Lower.com Field, defeating Los Angeles FC 2-1 to claim their third title.

But as the dust settles on that victory, it is time to look back on a gripping postseason and in particular cast an eye over which players rose to the occasion when it really mattered.

Juan 'Cucho' Hernandez - Columbus Crew

There is no better place to start than with Columbus Crew star Cucho Hernandez.

Formerly of Watford, Hernandez was tasked with plugging a gap left by the departing Lucas Zelarayan earlier this year and he did exactly that.

Not only did the tricky forward score 16 goals and lay on 11 assists during the regular season but he also carried that form into the MLS Cup playoffs.

In the postseason, Cucho bagged five goals and two assists, having broken the deadlock in the MLS Cup Final after scoring his side's second goal in the Conference Semifinal with Orlando City.

Denis Bouanga - Los Angeles FC

Hernandez was the MLS Cup MVP for 2023 but it could well have been Denis Bouanga had LAFC prevailed at Lower.com Field.

When Gareth Bale left at the end of last season, LAFC knew they needed someone to step up to the plate and fill the void out wide. Bouanga grew into the position as the season went on, having evolved into one of the finest players in MLS.

In the regular season, Bouanga topped the scoring charts with 20 goals and added seven assists in 31 appearances and he added five more goals to his tally in the playoffs.

Ryan Hollingshead - Los Angeles FC

Veteran full-back Ryan Hollingshead knows MLS well, having spent seven seasons with FC Dallas before making the move to LAFC last year.

He was a key part of the squad en route to the title last season but his role has arguably become even more important throughout 2023 and he impressed in the postseason.

Not only did Hollingshead win 14 tackles during the playoffs - only Aidan Morris (15) won more - but he also deserves praise for his attacking performances.

From his right-back position he contributed three goals, netting a brace in the 5-2 win over Vancouver Whitecaps and breaking the deadlock in a tense Conference Final with Houston Dynamo.

Maxime Crepeau - Los Angeles FC

It may seem bizarre to have more LAFC players on this list than Columbus Crew but the Californians had some excellent standout individual performances that deserve mentioning.

While Bouanga was their livewire in attack and Hollingshead contributed at both ends of the field, it was Maxime Crepeau who limited the damage at the back.

No shot-stopper made more saves in the MLS Cup playoffs than Crepeau (19), who kept three clean sheets and conceded only four goals in five matches, proving his value before he heads to free agency.

After missing the chance to celebrate LAFC's MLS Cup triumph last season, Crepeau cut a determined figure throughout the playoffs this time around and was particularly inspiring in the 1-0 win over Seattle, having pulled off a handful of match-winning saves.

Luciano Acosta - FC Cincinnati

It can be easy to forget about the regular season in the wake of such disappointment in the playoffs but FC Cincinnati should look back on 2023 with pride. Cincy claimed their first-ever Supporters' Shield title this year before crashing out in the Conference Finals against Ohio rivals Columbus Crew.

Luciano Acosta was their star of the show during the regular season, making 31 goal contributions (17 goals and 14 assists) to land the MLS MVP award.

But he also made his mark during the playoffs, scoring twice and laying on two assists in four appearances. He was a pivotal cog in the Cincinnati machine and they would likely not have gone as far without him.

Diego Rossi - Columbus Crew

Given the scintillating displays of Cucho Hernandez, it is easy to forget that there were other players in the Columbus Crew squad who shined.

One of them was Diego Rossi, who started his MLS career with LAFC in 2018 before moving to Fenerbahce, initially on loan, in 2021. 

He made his return to MLS this year and has added an MLS Cup to the Supporters' Shield he previously won with LAFC.

During the playoffs, Rossi's experience was crucial. He played 579 minutes of the playoffs - only four players bettered that total - and he scored twice and contributed three assists.

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