By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Apr 24, 2023) US Soccer Players – Consistency is one main ingredient for what can make a team competitive over the course of a few seasons, and it’s very often the hardest thing to achieve. This brings us to this year’s Concacaf Champions League semifinals, with the knockout stage giving us one of the biggest encounters of the season between two MLS teams. The two-legged affair between Los Angeles FC and the Philadelphia Union is a rematch of last year’s MLS Cup Final.
It also highlights consistency. Qualifying for the CCL is predicated on the results and accomplishments of the 2022 season. LAFC won that thrilling final against the Union in a shootout after 120 minutes that produced a 3-3 draw.
Six months later, the teams will meet once again on April 26 at Subaru Park just outside Philadelphia with the return match set for May 2 at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles. The matchup represents the consistency, not in only results, but also when it comes to attitude, tactics, and players. While the teams did see some changes over the winter, the core of their rosters remained the same. And yes, the mentality is also still in place.
LAFC, who also won the Supporters’ Shield last season, remain undefeated this season after a 1-1 road draw on Saturday against Nashville SC. “We know that they’re a very good team, very strong at their place,” LAFC midfielder Ilie Sanchez said of the Union following the draw with Nashville. “They have good weapons, especially offensively, but they’ve also been one of the best defensive teams in the league. It’s going to be tough. There is no other way to prepare for the game than thinking that we expect the best Philadelphia team possible.”
The CCL has typically come at an inopportune time for MLS teams, before the start of the regular season. Over time, MLS sides have gotten better at bridging the gap with Liga MX clubs, while also managing the calendar.
“The beginning (of the season) was a little disjointed,” Union coach Jim Curtain told reporters Saturday following a 4-2 win against Toronto FC. “We’ve sprinkled in some good Champions League wins, so I know our record should be better. I know we have the quality to make it better, but I think this group will get on a run and get things right.”
With Curtin calling the first-half “our best 45 minutes of the season,” he also said that “The challenge for the guys was playing a complete 90. I think this was our closest to a complete 90, but I still see a lot of room for improvement.”
What else do the semifinals tell us about this year’s CCL tournament? Overall, this is another positive sign for MLS on a regional stage the year after Seattle won the first trophy for an MLS side under the Champions League’s current format. Once again, the final will be MLS vs Liga MX, with the other side of the bracket an all-Mexican clash between Leon and Tigres. It’s a clear indication of a power shift should either LAFC or the Union win the whole thing.
At National Team level, the USMNT has achieved better results compared to El Tri. The United States won the inaugural Nations League and the Gold Cup in 2021, in both cases beating Mexico in the final. During the recent World Cup in Qatar, the USMNT reached the Round of 16 while Mexico failed to advance from the group stage. The expanded Leagues Cup this summer, a tournament pitting MLS and Liga MX sides, will deliver yet another verdict in the broader US versus Mexico narrative that encompasses club and country.
Right now, the LAFC vs Philadelphia semifinal is about the two games ahead of them. There’s no downplaying this matchup for either team. The winner could very well go on to establish themselves as a regional soccer power for years to come.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of the new book “The FIFA World Cup: A History of the Planet’s Biggest Sporting Event.”
More from Clemente Lisi:
- Q&A with CBS Sports/Paramount+ analyst Mike Grella
- Pulisic in the Champions League, Pefok in the Bundesliga, and Carter-Vickers in the Premiership and Scottish Cup
- Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver six weeks into the 2023 MLS season
- Advancing, options, and offense for the USMNT in March
Photo by LAFC