It was five months ago that the Union and LAFC last met, though you can forgive Jim Curtin for feeling that game belonged to another season.
Such is the history that has built up between the teams, who renew acquaintance Saturday night at what promises to be a rainy Subaru Park (7:30, AppleTV+). The teams have combined to play something like 60 games since the last meeting, including a two-leg CONCACAF Champions League affair on April 27 in Chester and May 2 in Los Angeles. The MLS Cup final classic of last November seems more remote than the pre-match rematch hype might indicate.
“It would’ve been nice to have a week-long buildup, for both teams to be fresh and have both teams fully healthy,” Curtin said Friday. “But it’s at that point of the year where everyone’s dealing with schedule congestion, for sure. It’ll be a test of teams’ depth, fitness, health, whatever you want to call it. It’s still always a really tough game. They have really great players. They’re well-coached, organized and the history between us is real.”
It’ll be the 43rd game of the season for both teams. Each is in a stretch of seven games in 22 days, all of the Union’s coming in the league, while LAFC has a Campeones Cup test next week against Tigres.
It’s also, arguably, not the most important game of the week for either. LAFC (12-9-8, 44 points) drew with Western Conference leader St. Louis City Wednesday, a result that dropped it from second to third in the standings. The Union (14-8-6, 48 points) would’ve benefitted more from beating East leader FC Cincinnati last Saturday, settling for a 2-2 draw.
That logjam doesn’t do justice to the cross-coast rivalry. LAFC defeated the Union in penalty kicks for the MLS Cup last year, an epic final that ended 3-3 after extra time. A stoppage-time goal in Chester salvaged a 1-1 draw for LAFC in the first leg of their CCL semifinals in April, then the Union hung tough in Los Angeles before an Olivier Mbaizo red card led to a 3-0 loss. LAFC went on to drop the final to Leon.
LAFC flew directly from St. Louis to Philadelphia this week. It has two home games looming after Tigres but finishes with road trips to Austin and Vancouver.
Games between the sides rarely disappoint. The Union twice gave up leads in a pulsating 2-2 affair out West last May. There was a 3-3 classic in the final game before the COVID shutdown in 2020, too.
“Both teams have navigated a very busy schedule,” Curtin said. “It’s a shame that we won’t both be as fresh as possible for the game, but it’s always a special match when we get together with them. We tend to bring the best out of each other.”
The Union will still be without Leon Flach, who isn’t back from treatment for his pelvic problem in Germany. It’s hoped he could return next week.
Jakob Glesnes is day-to-day with groin soreness, which he has played through to the way to 101 consecutive MLS starts and which Curtin characterized as a pain tolerance issue. Jose Martinez has left the last two games early, the latest for a bone bruise to his arm. Curtin said the midfielder is day-to-day.
With five lineup changes between their 2-2 draws, against Cincinnati and at Charlotte Wednesday, Curtin has fresh legs ready. Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza only worked for 34 minutes Wednesday and should start. Jack Elliott was suspended and will reintegrate. Alejandro Bedoya, suspended vs. Cincinnati, is relatively fresh.
Saturday’s match is part of a tough finishing stretch for the Union: Dallas, ninth in the West, awaits Wednesday before a weekend trip to Columbus, the East’s third-place team. They face a quick turnaround Oct. 4 and 7 with a pair of Eastern playoff teams in Atlanta United and Nashville, and Decision Day brings the Union to New England.
“This is the time of year, as we learned in Charlotte, every team needs points,” Curtin said. “The desperation sinks in and you look up, some teams only have four games left. We’re fortunate enough to have six and have some games in hand on teams, and we want to capitalize on that and get as many points as we can at home.”
Source: Berkshire mont