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‘mentality of this team defines us’

LAFC visits the Columbus Crew on Saturday, December 9 for the 2023 MLS Cup in hopes of lifting the second consecutive league trophy. But the Black and Gold saw a difficult road to the final, experiencing a tumultuous campaign before triumphing in the postseason. 

LAFC kicked off the 2023 season in a successful fashion, winning four of the first five matches. But as the campaign progressed, the team struggled with consistency. While balancing the US Open Cup, Concacaf Champions League and Major League Soccer, LAFC began to lose points during regular-season games to fall down the table. 

The team balanced mediocre MLS performances with international tournament success, until the Concacaf Champions League final. Liga MX’s Leon stunned the Black and Gold, winning both legs to conclude with an aggregate of 3-1 and lift the trophy over the MLS opponents. 

LAFC looked shattered. 

“The loss was a determinant factor of the season. It was a huge hit that cost us a lot to get through. It was difficult to recover from,” said LAFC midfielder Ilie Sanchez exclusively to 90min

“But the defeat gave us perspective. We looked at it as a way to improve, studying it to see how we can learn and where we went wrong. We didn’t expect to lose it, it was a huge opportunity that we let go, but from that moment on we analyzed how we could improve, and every person involved with the club understood we needed to look at it as a way to get better.” 

The team struggled to come back from the defeat, seeing a string of negative results and falling short in the Campeones Cup final against Tigres UANL before finding their rhythm once again. 

Since October 7, LAFC has yet to lose a game. The team concluded the regular season with dominant victories against Minnesota United and Austin FC, before going on to triumph against the Vancouver Whitecaps, Houston Dynamo and the Seattle Sounders in the playoffs to reach the final. 

“The mentality of this team defines us. We had a lot of tournaments, and lost two finals that could’ve ended us. But this team goes on, we continue trying in every tournament and game we play. We continue to strive to be the best team in every tournament, and we succeed,” said Carlos Vela to 90min.

“For me, the defining moment for LAFC has been the team’s resilience. We’ve just had a crazy year, so many games, tons of travels, the amount of miles we’ve flown this year has been insane. We’ve gotten into finals, lost finals and bounced back to get into the next final, lost against and bounced back. It’s just been brutal,” added LAFC’s Ryan Hollingshead. 

“Even though our season has just been grueling, we’re here again in another final, doing what, you know, very few teams have ever done and potentially going and winning it. And if we win, then we will really have done what very few teams in Major League Soccer have done.”

D.C. United (1996/1997), the Houston Dynamo (2006/2007) and the LA Galaxy (2011/2012) stand as the only three MLS sides to have completed the feat.

“ I think it would be a testament to how much this club has succeeded and it would ride our names even a little bit deeper in history,” said Hollingshead with a smirk. 

“We know we have a great opportunity on our hands to finish this long year, filled with so many games and difficulties, with a title. And winning it would change the perspective of this year,” added Vela. 

On December 9, the team will attempt to make history at Field by winning their second consecutive league title. The grueling win over the Philadelphia Union in 2022 merely serves as a stepping stone for the club that will only continue to “want more.”

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