MLS

MLS Western Conference Final Breakdown

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Three games remain before this year’s MLS season belongs to the history file. By the close of business on Sunday night, the conference champions in Major League Soccer will be known. After a week of conjecture regarding an expanded postseason format in the league starting next season, as well as reports on how the games will be presented when the new Apple TV+ deal begins in less than four months, it’s finally time to talk about the conference championships, beginning with the MLS Western Conference Final.

MLS Western Conference Final Kicks Off Championship Sunday in MLS Cup Playoffs

The MLS Western Conference Final is the first act of Championship Sunday in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Banc of California Stadium will play host to the match on Sunday afternoon. Inside the United States of America, the game will air live on ABC beginning at 3 pm ET/ noon PT, with kickoff following 18 minutes later.

No. 1 seed LAFC, who advanced to the game after besting the LA Galaxy in a playoff version of the El Trafico rivalry a week ago Thursday night, looks to advance to and host MLS Cup when they play No. 2 seed Austin FC. Austin progressed to Sunday’s match after defeating FC Dallas in the Texas Derby last Sunday.

Sunday’s MLS Western Conference Final could also be the deciding factor as to which conference champion clinches home-field advantage for MLS Cup on the afternoon of Nov. 5.

Host Team and Host Stadium for MLS Cup Final Still Unknown Heading Into Championship Sunday

Since the 2012 MLS season, the MLS Cup Final has been held at the home stadium of the conference champion with the higher point total in regular season play. Going into the penultimate matchday of this season, three conference finalists are still in line to secure home-field advantage in next Saturday’s MLS Cup.

NYCFC is the only conference finalist of the four which can’t play host to the game under any circumstance after finishing with the lowest regular season point total (55).

Simply put, if LAFC wins the MLS Western Conference Final versus Austin FC on Sunday afternoon, Banc of California Stadium will serve as the host venue for the Nov. 5 championship match, regardless of the result of the Eastern Conference Final on Sunday night. LAFC finished the regular season as the Supporters’ Shield winners, but were tied with the Philadelphia Union on points at 67.

LAFC Has Edge Thanks to Better Record in Regular Season, but Austin FC Could Host MLS Cup

LAFC clinched the Supporters’ Shield on the grounds that they ended the regular season with the better overall record when compared to the Philadelphia Union. LA had a 21-9-4 overall record, while the Union ended with a 19-5-10 record in the regular season.

Austin FC would be the home team in MLS Cup if they win in the Western Conference Final on Sunday afternoon and NYCFC win in the Eastern Conference Final against Philadelphia on Sunday night. A pop quiz will be held tomorrow morning on this subject. Tardiness results in a lower letter grade.

Austin FC Held Serve Against LAFC in Regular Season

Sunday’s MLS Western Conference Final marks the third head-to-head confrontation between Austin FC and LAFC in the 2022 MLS season. During regular season play this year, Austin won both meetings, including a 4-1 victory against LA on Aug. 26.

That night’s contest was marred by an on-field brawl where three yellow cards were assessed during the 38th minute of play. Austin FC forward Maxi Urruti was shoved by LAFC defender Jesus Murillo into the crowd. Urruti then retaliated by shoving him to the ground. Both men were given yellow cards for their respective roles in the confrontation, followed by a yellow card for Austin midfielder Diego Fagundez.

Given their history with one another, it’s safe to surmise that the officiating crew will be keeping a watchful eye on both Urruti and Murillo in the MLS Western Conference Final on Sunday afternoon. Tolerance for any extracurricular activities will be zero.

Carlos Vela Needs To Step Up For LAFC

LAFC’s performance this season has been buoyed in part by the individual performance of Carlos Vela, who’s been with the team since its expansion season in 2018. The forward accounted for 12 goals in the regular season but has not scored since Oct. 2.

That afternoon, he notched a 51st-minute tally en route to his team’s 2-1 Supporters’ Shield-clinching victory against the Portland Timbers. Prior to that, Vela netted a brace in LAFC’s Sept. 18 win versus the Houston Dynamo, the middle game of a three-match streak with at least one goal.

Vela has been kept off the scoreboard for three straight weeks. There’s no better time than on Sunday in the MLS Western Conference Semifinal for Carlos Vela to break out of his cold streak, and with Vela being left off of the Mexico Men’s National Team roster for next month’s World Cup, Sunday’s game could be his last chance to shine.

If Carlos Vela has a career game this weekend, LAFC will host MLS Cup in one week’s time.

Expect Sebastian Driussi To Step Up Again For Austin FC

Austin FC advanced to Sunday’s MLS Western Conference Final by besting FC Dallas 2-1 on Oct. 16. Both Austin goals came inside the first 30 minutes of action, including what would prove to be the game-winning tally from forward Sebastian Driussi in the 29th minute.

While Driussi’s output was limited to just a single goal last weekend, his impact on the team throughout the season has been nothing short of amazing. Sunday’s goal was Driussi’s third of the postseason and his 30th across all competitions since his MLS career began last season.

If Austin is to progress to MLS Cup, Sebastian Driussi will need to score at least twice on Sunday. Just one goal might not cut it this time around.

Final Thoughts

A 1 vs. 2 championship game is every sports fan’s greatest fantasy, and this is just what MLS is serving up to its fans on Sunday afternoon. The MLS Western Conference Final looks to be a fantastic match on paper. Whether or not it lives up to the advance billing remains to be seen.

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Drew Zuhosky has been writing about MMA since the spring of 2018. A graduate of Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, Drew enjoys a good game and an even better fight. When he's not writing, you can find him playing video games and listening to music.