2022 MLS Cup tactical preview: LAFC vs Philadelphia Union

LAFC will host the Philadelphia Union in the 2022 MLS Cup Final at Banc of California Stadium.

While both teams reached the championship match as the top seeds in their respective conferences, that is where the similarities end. With that in mind, VAVEL takes a look at how each side will look to approach the MLS showpiece.

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How LAFC will approach the match

What makes this LAFC side so dangerous is that they have the ability to do a little bit of everything and while they would love to counterattack most of the time, they generally shift the way they play.

In the second half of the Western Conference final against Austin, we saw this on full display. The Verde and Black came out in mid 4-4-2 designed to keep Giorgio Chiellini from picking them apart, opting to leave time and space for Jesus Murillo.

The Black and Gold took advantage of this as Murillo sent long balls through the space between the backline and Austin goalkeeper Brad Stuver while sending runners through the line.

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Denis Bouanga was one of the players that benefitted the most, cutting in from his spot on the left wing with Carlos Vela and Jose Cifuentes getting involved, as well.

While they don't just play over the top, the Western Conference champions are one of the very best in the league at turning high pressure into chances and converting those chances into goals.

While this may not exactly be how the Black and Gold can break down Philadelphia, in many ways, that's the point. They're so good, they take what the game gives them and beat most teams just like that.

In the 2-2 draw against the Union on May 7, LAFC generated 22 shots, but their best opportunities came on the counter or via set pieces. They tried to beat the Philadelphia diamond by creating wide overloads.

Manager Steve Cherundolo will likely push Ryan Hollingshead higher than Franco Escobar was in the first matchup.

Regardless of that, it's safe to say LAFC will stick to the game plan that has them on the verge of their first-ever title.

How Philadelphia will approach the match

It's no secret Jim Curtin's preferred style of play is fast and vertical. The formation the Philadelphia manager plays allow them to play balls over the top for the many runners available, which will be a constant in any Union match.

While they don't switch the field very much, their backline and d-mid are masterful and that gives them the chance to create "pressure traps", getting the opposing defense on one side of the pitch and quickly shifting possession to the other side.

The full-backs then rush in and he picks his service into multiple runners.

What makes Philadelphia so successful is that they force you to overextend yourself, whether it's in pursuit of a goal by using the ball or in pursuit of attempting to win the ball back itself. If LAFC falls into this trap, the Union will show why they're one of the deadliest teams in league history.

The reason for that is the talent oozing out of both the backline and midfield with Daniel Gazdag, Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza the hardest-working trio of two-way players you'll find.

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Although Uhre and Carranza are interchangeable, Uhre is likelier to stretch the field while Carranza is more comfortable dropping back and being a playmaker.

The wide midfielders in the diamond, or "shuttlers", is where the variation in Curtin's setup could be. No matter the case, Leon Flach is going to be in the starting XI and try to make Cifuentes' life miserable as often as possible.

Captain Alejandro Bedoya is not at full strength and two of the last three weeks, he's tried to play, but the end result saw him hobbling off of the field.

If Bedoya can't go, Jack McGlynn will take his place and he brings a different set of skills to the match as a number eight than Bedoya. Bedoya's mind is one of his biggest assets and he's magnificent at  finding space and creating space with his selfless off-the-ball running.

What hurts Philadelphia the most when the skipper is absent is the right-backs being considerably less effective on the overlap and McGlynn doesn't have the range or mind of Bedoya yet.

McGlynn's on-ball skills are a different story. His work in the build-up play that led to the only goal in the win over Cincinnati was of the highest quality and if LAFC's midfield devolves in the second half, he'll tear them apart.

The Union play at a slower pace and play more intricate small-ball combinations with McGlynn in the lineup, but it's effective nonetheless.

What shouldn't get lost is that the Eastern Conference champions ARE a pressing team and most certainly a counter-pressing team, but they don't press high up the field. They do it on occasion, but their typical line of confrontation is closer to midfield than it is to the opposing goalkeeper’s box.

Final outlook

There are several keys to what seems like an even matchup. The health of Chiellini and Bedoya is at the forefront of that with neither player making it past halftime of their respective conference finals.

If Chiellini is sidelined, Eddie Segura, who would normally deputize, is also a question mark. That leaves fourth-stringer Sebastien Ibeagha to take the start against one of the most potent offenses in league history.

Uhre also doesn't seem 100 percent healthy and that could lead to Cory Burke, a player who is at his best coming off the bench, to start.

Restarts will play a vital role and could very well decide the outcome of the match. LAFC’s 17 goals scored across the regular season and playoffs is third behind Nashville and Austin, while Philadelphia led the league in xG off of dead-ball situations this year and scored 13.

The Union conceded just five goals from restarts, while the Black and Gold gave up eight.

Not mentioned yet is Andre Blake. He just won MLS Goalkeeper of the Year for a record third time, was an MVP finalist and is well on his way to becoming the best in MLS history.