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The Crew capture a third M.L.S. Cup, while their coach achieves a first.

Nancy’s Milestone Highlights Win Over L.A.F.C.

FELIPE CARDENAS

The Columbus Crew are the 2023 M.L.S. Cup champions after beating Los Angeles F.C., 2-1, in a raucous environment in Columbus, Ohio.

Cucho Hernandez scored the opening goal for Columbus off a penalty kick in the 31st minute, and Yaw Yeboah netted a second goal just four minutes later.

Denis Bouanga got one back for L.A.F.C. in the 74th minute.

With the win, Wilfried Nancy became the first Black head coach to win the M.L.S. Cup. Crew midfielder Darlington Nagbe became the fourth player in league history to win four M.L.S. Cups.

Here are our takeaways from the match:

Should it have been a penalty kick?

Columbus was dominant through the entirety of the first half, but the Crew were unable to break through with a goal until a handball in the box was called on L.A.F.C. defender Diego Palacios in the 31st minute.

Diego Rossi flicked a ball over his shoulder, and it deflected off the chest of Palacios before rolling up off of his extended right arm. Referee Armando Villarreal didn’t hesitate to blow his whistle and point to the spot for a penalty.

The call went to the video assistant referee, but the officials confirmed it was a handball. The handball rule, of course, is not always easily interpreted, but the rule indicates that an action is a handball if the arm or hand touches the ball when it’s extended and makes the body “unnaturally bigger.” That was certainly the case for Palacios.

While some leagues, including the Premier League, allow some leniency for a deflection off of another body part, that is not the International Football Association Board rule, and typically a deflection does not matter if the arm or hand touches the ball above shoulder level.

The penalty stood. Hernandez buried his shot in the lower left corner, and the Crew had a 1-0 lead. PAUL TENORIO

A well-worked second goal for Columbus.

Entering the game, L.A.F.C. should have felt like it would dictate the passage of play when the ball was in the central third between the flanks. With three dedicated central midfielders to Columbus’s pair, Los Angeles could use the numerical advantage to control a vital portion of the field.

That played out during the opening half-hour. L.A.F.C. dedicated a man-marker to Darlington Nagbe, most often his former international teammate Kellyn Acosta. Ilie Sánchez and Timothy Tillman were allowed to follow the ball across the lateral thirds to close Aidan Morris’s passing lanes.

Of course, tactical tradeoffs must be made when you have one extra player in a certain zone. The defense was similarly fortified, leaving L.A.F.C. with three attackers to try to press the opponent’s backline. The idea was that the opposing team will have to keep the ball in a less dangerous area, with the midfield, wings, and defensive box all adequately marked.

There are two primary ways to overcome the numerical disadvantage. The first would be to dribble, requiring bull-headed technical panache to fly in the face of the opposing defense. The other: a pass that breaks multiple lines to bypass the midfield entirely, getting the ball into the path of an attacker barreling beyond the backline.

And my word, there’s no better example of that pass being an absolute back-breaker than Malte Amundsen’s assist on the second goal.

The degree of difficulty on this already-ambitious dish was heightened by the slick conditions as rain drizzled onto the field. Many would fail to account for the speed of the surface, sending it well past the backline. Instead, Amundsen judged it perfectly, and Yeboah took a one-on-one with Maxime Crepeau — and, with his cool finish, put L.A.F.C. into shock before the halftime whistle. JEFF RUETER

A disappointing goodbye for Chiellini?

Regardless of how the M.L.S. Cup final went, Giorgio Chiellini was always going to be considered one of soccer’s greatest defenders of all time.

On Saturday night, he may have played the last match of his career. Chiellini told reporters before the M.L.S. Cup that he would decide whether to play one more season with L.A.F.C. or perhaps retire.

Afterward, he was similarly guarded.

“It could be my last game,” he told journalists. “Give me a couple of days.”

Chiellini played just two seasons with L.A.F.C., but he left a lasting impression on the club.

Chiellini was signed to improve the club’s backline and defensive I.Q., and while injuries kept the 39year-old off the field in both seasons, Chiellini was a successful signing and massive upgrade.

“They deserved to win,” Chiellini said afterward. “I don’t think they’re a better team than us, but they deserved to win.”

Chiellini won 29 titles over the course of his career, one that began in 2000. He’ll be forever linked to the Serie A giants Juventus and the Italian national team. Chiellini won nine league championships with Juve and an European Championship with his country.

Last week, Chiellini spoke about his love for the city of Los Angeles and the special relationship he formed with Coach Steve Cherundolo. If he retires, he’ll know that he left his mark on the game. What a legendary career he has had. FELIPE CARDENAS

And Carlos Vela?

Carlos Vela was the marquee signing as L.A.F.C. began life in M.L.S., but his contract is up at the end of this year, and we’ll know whether he comes back in the coming weeks. Vela, a Mexican international, has said he wants to continue playing. To remain with Los Angeles would likely mean he would have to accept losing his designated player tag. If both sides agree that it’s better to move on, Vela’s future is likely to be away from M.L.S.

Regardless, Vela will always be synonymous with the black and gold of L.A.F.C. To see him in another M.L.S. kit would be bizarre. The 34-year-old has spoken often about having helped build L.A.F.C. from the ground up, and he’s right. The “before” and “after” Vela chapters in the club’s history books will be remarkably different. Vela dominated the league in 2019, winning a Most Valuable Player Award and Golden Boot and leading the side to a Supporters’ Shield. In 2022, Vela guided the club to an M.L.S. Cup title.

After smashing records in his first seasons in M.L.S., Vela has slowed a bit, becoming more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. In July, Vela spoke to The Athletic about the final chapter of his career: “Honestly, I’m thinking about it. I’ve always been clear about that,” he said. “I know it’s coming soon. I want to end well. I don’t want to be let go because I can’t play anymore.”

At the time he had not received any offers to play with any other club. Will we see a “thank you” post from L.A.F.C. on social media soon, or will Vela be back in M.L.S. for one more year?

SPORTS

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2023-12-11T08:00:00.0000000Z

2023-12-11T08:00:00.0000000Z

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