An MLS Cup 2023 Tale of the Tape: Unsung Heroes, X-Factors, and Our Prediction

Major League Soccer will crown its 28th champion this weekend in a highly anticipated match between one of the league’s original clubs and one of its most successful expansion franchises. 

And so, there were two. After a long 2023 that saw Major League Soccer make plenty of national and global headlines, the season is coming to its conclusion this Saturday.

Both the Columbus Crew and LAFC come into the final having improved greatly down the stretch, and with the Crew playing at home they are in pole position to become the third team to win three MLS Cups.

LAFC on the other hand are the defending champions, and while they got lost in all the hype around Lionel Messi, St. Louis City SC, and FC Cincinnati, the Black and Gold had an up-and-down 2023 season. After picking up right where the club left off at the beginning of the year, things took a downward spiral following the CONCACAF Champions League Final loss to León in June. A mix of fatigue — LAFC has played in 52 total matches in 2023 going into the Cup Final — and a few key injuries had an impact on the team’s decline.

However, 2023 MLS Golden Boot winner Denis Bouanga along with a slightly inconsistent Carlos Vela were able to carry the club to a second straight MLS Cup Final. If LAFC were to win the title on Saturday, it would be the first time a club won back-to-back MLS Cups since the LA Galaxy in 2011 and 2012.

Below is the tale of the tape of these two sides, who are slowly becoming two of the premier clubs in Major League Soccer.

The Managers

wilfried nancy columbus crew

Wilfried Nancy took over the Columbus Crew in 2023 from Caleb Porter, who won an MLS Cup with the franchise in 2020. Nancy came in with a lot of hype after taking CF Montreal to the playoffs in his two seasons as well as narrowly missing out on Coach of the Year in 2022. His preferred 3-4-3 formation made his side a menace for defenses in MLS, led by Cucho Hernández and former LAFC designated player Diego Rossi, who joined the club after a stint with Turkish giants Fenerbahce.

steve cherundolo lafc

For LAFC, Steve Cherundolo had to weather the storm of his sophomore season at the helm. Despite the team at times showing some regression, ‘Dolo was still able to scratch out a bit more from veterans Vela and Giorgio Chiellini. The midseason arrival of Cristian Olivera gave LAFC a much needed spark up top as Bouanga ran away with the 2023 MLS Golden Boot.

Cherundolo could go two-for-two and the undefeated mark, as the former United States men’s national team full back has not lost a single playoff game as LAFC coach.

Unsung Heroes


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At 33, Darlington Nagbe continues to be one of the best engines in MLS. He’s a serial winner who’s in search of his fourth MLS ring. Be it Portland, Atlanta, or Columbus, Nagbe has hoisted the MLS Cup wherever he’s been in the league, and a fourth title would be an achievement only eight other players have accomplished, including the likes of Landon Donovan, Jaime Moreno, and Dwayne De Rosario.

Former Timbers teammate Diego Valeri penned a heartfelt tribute to Nagbe following the Crew’s Eastern Conference Final victory over Cincinnati, which vividly illustrates how important Nagbe has been to every team he’s played with.

ryan hollingshead lafc

For LAFC, Ryan Hollingshead has been an unsung hero since joining the team in 2022. With 10 goals in 62 MLS appearances and 15 82 across all competitions, Hollingshead has a knack for scoring goals and has been one of the best offensive outside backs in the league.

He’s also another player used to winning titles, having won the Supporters’ Shield twice — once apiece with FC Dallas and LAFC — in addition to last year’s MLS Cup and the 2016 U.S. Open Cup with FC Dallas.

X-Factors By Way of Uruguay

cristian olivera lafc

Cristian Olivera came to LAFC in the summer, and since his arrival he has become a role player on the Uruguayan national team under the wing of Marcelo Bielsa. In MLS, he has scored two goals in 10 games, and his talent will be a major key to LAFC’s success if they want to go back-to-back.

diego rossi lafc

Diego Rossi on the other hand is more of a sure thing for the Columbus Crew. When the club saw an opportunity to bring back the former LAFC Golden Boot winner, Nancy did not hesitate to adjust his system and Rossi fit right in.

A Tale of Old and New

lafc 2022 mls cup champs

In just six years, LAFC have been on top of the mountain in MLS, winning one MLS Cup, two Western Conference titles, and two Supporters’ Shields, in addition to two CONCACAF Champions League Final appearances.

The club has boasted a league MVP in Vela along with three Golden Boot winners in Vela, Rossi, and Bouanga. The list of accomplishments in a relatively short timespan is quite impressive.

columbus crew stadium 1999

However, the pioneering Columbus Crew may have yet an even more important history for MLS. In 1999, the Crew took a major risk and built a stadium exclusively for soccer, a move that most likely saved the league from oblivion.

On the field, the small market Crew have outdone teams in New England, Dallas, Miami, and New York with two MLS Cups, three Supporters’ Shields, and one U.S. Open Cup.

From an individual award perspective, the Crew have produced one MVP in Guillermo Barros Schelotto and one Golden Boot winner in Stern John.

Prediction Time

Playing at home and surprising many, it will be the Columbus Crew that will claim their third MLS Cup, putting them in a select group among MLS teams. Look for the Crew’s attack to overwhelm the LAFC defense which has had a lot of hiccups during the regular season. MVP honors will go to Cucho Hernández, who is primed to score a banger or two.

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