10.12.2023 00:57 h

Columbus sink Los Angeles to win MLS crown for third time

The Columbus Crew won their third Major League Soccer title after beating Los Angeles FC 2-1 in the MLS Cup final on Saturday.

A penalty from Cucho Hernandez and goal from Yaw Yeboah gave the Crew a 2-0 lead at the interval before Denis Bouanga pulled a goal back for LAFC in the 74th minute.

In what may have been the final game before retirement for former Italy captain Giorgio Chiellini and possibly a last appearance for LAFC for Mexican star Carlos Vela, last year's champions were convincingly beaten.

Columbus, coached by little-known Frenchman Wilfried Nancy, dominated the game for long stretches while Steve Cherundolo's LAFC were unable to unleash their trademark counter-attacks.

Nancy, who won his first major title as a coach in his first season with Columbus, said his team had improved throughout the season.

"They have grown a lot as players, and as people. When we started, I told them 'Guys, impossible is an opinion'-- just enjoy it and we're gonna grow. And this is what happened. This is unbelievable," he said.

"We played our way. I'm so proud".

After a frantic start, in front of a loud, capacity 20,802 home crowd, Columbus quickly settled into their possession game thanks to the calming influence of veteran midfielder Darlington Nagbe, who has now won the title with three different clubs.

French defender Steven Moreira had the first real opening, in the 16th minute, but his disappointing header from a promising position in the box was off target.

The Crew's roaming Colombian striker Hernandez sent a reminder of his goal threat with a shot from 20 yards out which flashed wide of the post.

Uruguayan attacking midfielder Diego Rossi was increasingly influential as he began to find spaces behind Hernandez and he went close in the 27th minute with a shot into the side-netting.

The pressure on the Los Angeles defence was building but when the Crew broke through it was via a fortunate penalty award.

Yeboah crossed from the left, Rossi flicked the ball up in the air and it struck the shoulder of Diego Palacios and then his arm.

Referee Armando Villarreal had no hesitation pointing to the spot and Hernandez buried the penalty into the bottom corner to make it 1-0 in the 33rd minute.

Within four minutes the Crew doubled their lead with a goal of perfect simplicity.

Danish defender Malte Amundsen played a pinpoint defence-splitting pass to Yeboah who sped around the back of Ryan Hollingshead before poking home with the outside of his left-foot.

The Crew fans, many of whom had been chanting in the stadium over two hours before kick off, were ecstatic and LAFC, who had created next to nothing for the league's top scorer Bouanga, looked shell-shocked.

There was some encouragement though for the constantly singing black-clad visiting Los Angeles supporters on the stroke of half-time when a low cross from Cristian Olivera was almost sliced into his own goal by Crew defender Rudy Carmacho.

Columbus continued to dominate after the break though with the livewire Yeboah, skipping past two defenders as he weaved into the box, chipping over the advancing Los Angeles keeper Max Crepeau only for Palacios to head off the line.

There were signs that Columbus were starting to tire a little heading into the final 20 minutes with mistakes creeping into their game and LAFC pushed forward with more urgency.

A burst of pace from Bouanga got him behind the defence but his low ball across the face of the goal went untouched.

Moments later the French-born Gabon international got his team back into the game -- a right foot shot inside the box was parried by Patrick Schulte but Bouanga reacted swiftly and buried the loose ball.

But the Crew were not for crumbling, responding positively - Rossi scuffing a chance to make it 3-1 and substitute Christian Ramirez appealing in vain for a penalty after bursting into the box.

The Crew held firm in seven minutes of added time to set off a party as the Ohio crowd celebrated a third title following their triumphs in 2008 and 2020.

Chiellini said Columbus had deserved the victory.

"It was a beautiful journey, that we have to be proud of it. Of course, I am sad for the game, I don't think they are better in general but they played much better tonight," he said.