Bale earns his pay as LAFC win MLS Cup in ‘Best MLS game ever’

by Jacob Fuller

Jacob Fuller, FISM News

Gareth Bale earned every penny of his $1.6 million contract with LAFC in one impressive leap and one flick of his head.

Bale, a world-class forward who has played for the likes of Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur, had only played in 12 matches and scored just two goals since signing with LAFC in June. He hadn’t stepped foot on the field during a game in more than a month when he entered the MLS Cup Final on Saturday in the 97th minute for star forward Carlos Vela and cemented his spot as an LAFC legend.

Bale’s header into the back corner of the net in the 128th minute tied the game 3-3 and sent LAFC to penalty kicks, where the young club defeated the Philadelphia Union 3:0 to win its first MLS title.

The score marked the third time the trailing team had brought the game back level, as the Eastern and Western Conference champions traded blows all game.

“It’s always nice to score in finals, and I seem to have a knack for doing that,” Bale told reporters. “It’s big. It’s important for the club. It’s important for the fans.”

“It’s Gareth being Gareth,” LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo said of Bale’s equalizer. “He does it in training. He’s done it this season. When he’s feeling well and healthy, he makes a difference in games. That’s why we bring him in those moments.”

After extra time ended with the game knotted up at 3-3, the two teams headed to a penalty shootout.

LAFC backup goalkeeper John McCarthy had taken over for starter Maxime Crépeau, who was injured and received a red card in the 116th minute during a last-ditch foul to stop a Philadelphia goal-scoring chance. McCarthy played four seasons with Philadelphia, from 2015 through 2018, as current Union goalkeeper Andre Blake’s backup. It seemed that the Union and Blake, the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, had the advantage.

It didn’t turn out that way at all, however. McCarthy saved two attempts and another Union shot sailed over the crossbar, and LAFC won the shootout 3:0. Ilie Sanchez scored the decisive penalty in front of the ruckus home fans.

LAFC struck first in the game when U.S. national team regular Kellyn Acosta’s free kick deflected off of Philadelphia’s Jack McGlynn and into the net.

In the 59th minute, Philadelphia’s Jose Martinez fired what may have started as an ill-advised shot from distance but turned into a perfect pass to Daniel Gazdag, who turned and buried it into the back of the net to tie the game 1-1.

Jesus Murillo’s header off of Vela’s corner kick in the 83rd minute appeared to be the game-winning goal, but only for a moment. Two and half minutes later, Jack Elliott sent a set-piece header of his own past Crepeau to make it 2-2.

After lengthy injury stoppages extended the second half of extra time, Elliott got his foot on a rebounding ball for a tap-in goal that seemed to certainly be the winner in the 124th minute.

In the announcers’ booth and on social media, there was little debate over whether or not the game was the most exciting MLS Cup ever. In fact, many believe it was the best game in the history of Major League Soccer.