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    LAFC, Philadelphia expect another heavyweight clash in CONCACAF Champions League semifinal
    • April 26, 2023

    For Aaron Long, it only made sense that the Los Angeles Football Club faced the Philadelphia Union in the MLS Cup final.

    “Me being in the East last year, Philly was definitely the heavyweight,” Long said. “In the East, they were a very good team. And then they came to L.A., and L.A. was the top dog in the West. So it looked like a heavyweight fight.”

    The defender’s familiarity with what makes the Union tough to beat has repeatedly collided with LAFC’s unabashed success since 2018.

    Very little has separated Major League Soccer’s top point-earning and goal-scoring organizations other than their style of play, giving Long the unmistakable impression last November that “the right two teams that should be in the final” made it.

    Twelve days prior to entering free agency following seven seasons with the New York Red Bulls, Long watched as LAFC absorbed heavy blows from Philadelphia before landing a haymaker that would have dropped Rocky Balboa.

    After 131 intense minutes plus penalty kicks – and three straight saves by hero goalkeeper John McCarthy, a Philly boy – LAFC denied the Union its first MLS Cup title and made Black & Gold history instead.

    Five months on from that epic result the two sides remain competitively tethered, playing their way into the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal – Wednesday night at Subaru Park on the banks of the Delaware River, with the second leg set for next Tuesday (May 2) at BMO Stadium.

    According to metrics valued by the Union, LAFC ranks No. 1 in scoring transition goals and transition defense. That strong combination illustrates how well LAFC has held up during a congested schedule to start 2023, as does its status as the lone unbeaten team in MLS (5-0-3).

    With 177 points off a 54-13-15 home record since the 2018 regular season, the Union are second best on their turf in league play. LAFC, five points better at 54-9-20, shows the tight margins between the two across assorted statistics and records, which slightly favor the current league and Supporters’ Shield titlists over an opponent driven to surpass them.

    Long’s vantage point might have shifted after signing with LAFC in January, but the defender’s impression of the league’s most compelling East-West confrontation is unchanged ahead of their two-leg Champions League clash.

    Philadelphia plays direct and builds up the bulk of its successful moments through the midfield. LAFC has proven dangerous in a variety of ways and appears especially adept at isolating defenders while creating dangerous chances for its skilled attackers.

    “When you have two styles like this and two teams that are good on the counter it makes for an exciting game,” Long said. “The final was extremely exciting.

    “I think we’re going to expect a lot of that in the Champions League game. There’s just a lot of really good attacking players on both teams. There’s no way there’s not going to be a lot of chances created, and hopefully goals for us and not for them.”

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    Through two rounds of the international competition, that has been the scenario returning home.

    Coach Steve Cherundolo’s group traveled to Costa Rica and Vancouver, established seemingly insurmountable 3-0 advantages, and locked up each 180-minute result without much stress at BMO Stadium.

    “We didn’t predict those scores but we were able to put in a performance both times that put ourselves in a great position to seal the deal at home,” Cherundolo said, “and that’s exactly what we’re going to try to do in Philly as well.”


    What: CONCACAF Champions League semifinal (first leg)

    When: Wednesday, 6 p.m. PT

    Where: Subaru Park, Chester, Pa.

    TV: FS1, TUDN

    ​ Orange County Register