The final league match of Saturday night lived up to the heavyweight billing with Philadelphia Union and LAFC battling to a 2-2 draw between the conference leaders.
Returning to the California where the two sides played to a hectic 3-3 draw in 2020, it was end to end action from the opening whistle. The Union generated the first chance of the night with Kai Wagner getting into open space on the left flank and picking out Leon Flach as the midfielder made a run into the box. Flach quickly found Cory Burke but the Reggae Boyz forward saw his shot end up wide of frame.
LAFC seized control moments later that led to four consecutive corners in a matter of minutes that tested the Union’s defensive shape and communication. Dealing strongly with the initial service, the ever dangerous Carlos Vela riffled a shot from long range in the ninth minute but saw it drift wide of Andre Blake.
Knowing they’d need to capitalize on any scoring chance that presented itself, the Boys in Blue converted in counter attacking fashion after the miss. Moving at a break neck speed off a throw in, Julian Carranza split the LAFC defense with a timely move inside the center circle and was off to the races. The Argentinian sent a threaded pass to Wagner once more on the flank and the left back led the charge. Wagner, all-time leader in assists from a defender, lived up to the billing with a curling cross that skipped through the defense and led to an calm finish by Daniel Gazdag.
LAFC continued to test the Union’s back line with their ultra-high press, playing right into Philly’s preferred style with the center back duo of Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes playing volleys off the midfield to counteract the scheme. With no space in the middle of the park, LAFC turned to service from the wings with Cristian Arango trying a long-range header in the 29th minute that was easily caught by Blake.
Two minutes later again it was the Union going on the attack with Wagner once more providing a tremendous pass. Cutting inside, Wagner set up a long-range blast for Jose Martinez but the Venezuelan’s right-footed shot just missed the upper 90.
The Union came out of the locker room in the second half hungry for an insurance goal with both Wagner and homegrown Nathan Harriel pushing high up the pitch to spark chances in the box. Wagner continued to dominate on the left side, serving up a timely cross to Burke in the 51st minute that just missed the LAFC net.
The hosts finally broke through in the 56th minute, quickly attacking the Union when they found space in the middle of the park. Cristian Arango won a clearance and drove into the attacking third. Seeing the transition moment, he fed a pass to José Cifuentes who quickly flicked a pass to Kwadwo Opoku for the one-time finish.
Just like the city they represent, the Union didn’t put their heads down and try to settle for just a lone point on the road. They fought back in the city of stars with Carranza giving the fans one of the most spectacular finishes in 2022 from the Boys in Blue. Daniel Gazdag collected a chested down pass and dribbled centrally to create space. The Hungarian saw Carranza backing down his man like a NBA forward and quickly fed the forward the ball. With a defender draped on his hip, Carranza sent a left-footed flick that bent around the keeper and the post for the Union to make it 2-1.
The Western Conference leaders again swung back in the heavyweight prize fight with their abundance of corner kicks finally netting a goal in the 83rd minute. The Union succeeded in getting the first touch but saw it fall to Franco Escobar at the far post. Blake made a strong reaction save but saw it fall right back to the LAFC defender who quickly fired it back at goal for the equalizer.
Philadelphia Union face a short turnaround as they make the cross country trip to play Orlando City SC on Tuesday, May 10th. The showdown marks the Union's debut in the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with kick off for the Round of 32 match set for 7 p.m. ET at Exploria Stadium. Fans can catch the contest exclusively on ESPN+.