Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Another Philly team, this time the Union, loses to another Philly expatriate

The Union's roster was stacked with winners, but they lost to one who got away.

Los Angeles FC goalkeeper John McCarthy, a North Catholic and La Salle alumnus, makes a save against the Union's José Andrés Martínez in a penalty shootout in the MLS Cup.
Los Angeles FC goalkeeper John McCarthy, a North Catholic and La Salle alumnus, makes a save against the Union's José Andrés Martínez in a penalty shootout in the MLS Cup.Read moreJose F. Moreno / Staff Photographer

LOS ANGELES — Maybe John McCarthy will take a congratulatory phone call from Chas McCormick. Hometown heroes turned all-time Philly killers, they can play golf together and compare notes about their respective places in local sports villainy.

Try to believe all this happened out here in sunny Southern Cal: The MLS Cup MVP was an emergency goalkeeper only in for the last nine minutes of overtime because the world-class starter made such a hard foul during overtime that he earned a red card and apparently broke his own leg.

Enter John McCarthy, who went to a Philadelphia high school that no longer exists … (shoutout, North Catholic), then on to La Salle University. Before McCarthy broke the hearts of Union fans, he’d been a Union backup, a terrific one, a fan favorite, specializing in ... wait for it … penalty-kick stops. (At least McCormick was supposed to be in Thursday’s Phillies game.)

» READ MORE: Union lose MLS Cup final heartbreaker to LAFC in penalty kick shootout after 3-3 tie

Earlier, the Union were two minutes from a title when a world superstar who had scored 81 goals in his time at Real Madrid and now has three in his injury-plagued season with LAFC … but, my Lord, this one: a perfect Gareth Bale header, snapped off a cross, Union keeper Andre Blake diving, but this one just beyond his own spectacular abilities.

Union fans scattered in the southeast corner got a good view of it all, leaving them all gutted, asking how they couldn’t hold on for just two minutes, up a man.

To that moment, MVP honors were going to Jack Elliott, a 6-foot-6 Englishman, a fine Union center back, but somehow a two-time goal-scorer in the final crazy minutes, getting a beer shower each time, which had to feel good … at the time.

In the penalty kicks, McCarthy dove once to his right and then to a left for a stop, after guessing wrong on the the first of five Union penalty kicks, but seeing it pass over the bar, into the crowd.

Few in the sport are better than Blake at making the spectacular look routine. His full extension denial after LAFC already was on the scoreboard first kept the Union in it past halftime.

The Andre Blake era of Union soccer is one of sustained excellence. Let’s put it like this, he’s the best keeper in the country, even when the United States men’s national team plays a home game. But penalty kicks can turn into a random affairs. Blake got them started with a stop, but LAFC buried the rest for the win, the last getting just under Blake.

Maybe this title was won before the playoffs began, with LAFC gaining the home field by the slimmest of margins, determined by MLS protocols in a sense, since both finalists finished with 67 regular-season points, but the first tiebreaker was total wins; the second was goal differential. If that order had been flipped, the Union would have hosted this game at Subaru Park.

Not saying there was anything wrong with those protocols, just that the margin for hosting this game was every bit as close as its final result. This was the first time the two best in the league had faced off for the title since 2003.

“It’s safe to say we just saw the greatest game in MLS history,” Fox analyst Stu Holden said to start the postgame ceremony. This was that and then some.

Officially, the final score was 3 (3) for LAFC, 3(0) for the Union. Those numbers were both correct and so short of telling the tale of this tape. They fail to mention how Union midfielder José Andrés Martínez committed mistakes that led to the first LAFC goal, then atoned with a juke for space and a perfect pass that led to the first Union goal from Dániel Gazdag in the 59th minute.

» READ MORE: Union and LAFC bring out the best in each other

The scoresheet can’t point out the impossibility of coming back twice against the top team in MLS in a throbbing cauldron of flag-waving soccer mania known as Banc of California Stadium. You don’t score in the 85th minute after giving one up in the 83rd. The Union did.

After the beer showers, the LAFC PA announcer kept explaining to the fine patrons inside that they might be arrested and removed from the property if they didn’t stop such behavior. How it actually played out: They stayed around to cheer a Philly kid who kept going to North Catholic even after his family moved over to Cinnaminson, which also gets to claim John McCarthy.

In truth, the guy has always been a winner, from a family who once heard about a man giving out free basketballs around the city and contacted him about his methods, deciding they could do the same with soccer balls.

It’s worth pointing out emphatically that the Union never closes to within inches of a MLS title without a roster stocked with winners.

They just lost to one who got away.

» READ MORE: After building the Union into a title contender, Ernst Tanner takes in his team’s success