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LAFC tops Dynamo 2-0 in Western Conference Final as repeat bid persists

LAFC is headed back to the MLS Cup Final after defeating the Houston Dynamo 2-0 at home on Saturday night in Los Angeles.

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LAFC defender Ryan Hollingshead celebrates after scoring a goal in the 44th minute in the Western Conference Finals match against the Houston Dynamo at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles, CA on Dec. 2, 2023.

"To be the champ, you've got to beat the champ," former Mixed Martial Artists Mark Hunt once said.

That will now be the daunting task for the Columbus Crew after reigning Champions LAFC secured a 2-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo during the Western Conference Final on Saturday night in Los Angeles.

Columbus will host the MLS Cup Final next Saturday after rallying from a two-goal deficit against Supporter's Shield winners FC Cincinnati in extra time earlier in the day.

LAFC, who won the MLS Cup in thrilling fashion over the Philadelphia Union last November, will seek to become the first team to win back-to-back championships since the LA Galaxy did in 2011 and 2012. DC United was the first team to accomplish the feat during the league's first two years in existence in 1996 and 1997. LAFC will look to join that exclusive list, as the fourth team in history to win back-to-back titles.

"Everything happens for a reason and that reason is for right now: to have a chance to go back-to-back," said LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, who broke his leg in extra time in the MLS Cup Final last season. "That's part of football. I broke my leg last year and we won the title...I'm so happy for the chance to go back-too-back."

Meanwhile, Columbus will be playing in their fourth MLS Cup Final in history after winning the championship in 2008 and 2020.

Similar to their semifinal match in Seattle last Sunday, LAFC scored first and held on for dear life to stave off elimination and remain the reigning champions. As he did in Seattle, Crepeau made a handful of sensational saves to keep a clean sheet and be named the game's Most Valuable Player.

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"It really is a collective effort," said Crepeau of the team's three consecutive clean sheets in the playoffs. "Everybody takes pride in it. We can score goals, but we can shut teams down as well."

The first half was all black and gold, as the reigning MLS champions dominated with nine shots on goal. LAFC thought they had a goal several times in the first 45, but the referee raised the flag, whistling for offsides on three separate occasions.

But LAFC finally broke through in the 44th minute when Carlos Vela's corner kick was placed on-goal by defender Giorgio Chiellini. Dynamo keeper Steve Clark made the save, but the rebound went right to Ryan Hollingshead who tapped it into the open net for the game's first goal.

"Steve Clark is a phenomenal goalie," said Hollingshead, breaking down his goal. "He's been in the league for a long time, but he doesn't like coming out on set pieces. He likes to stay on his line. So I know with our ability on set pieces, if we can get something on target, it's going to be hard for them to hold it. There's going to be a bobble, so I'm just taking my chances that something is going to pop out and that's exactly what happened."

LAFC received some extra insurance courtesy of an own-goal in the 80th minute by Dynamo defender, and former LA player, Franco Escobar. Diego Palacios sent a cross into the box that was deflected into his own net by Escobar.

The Dynamo dominated possession 72 percent to LAFC's 28 percent. They had five shots on goal, and over 500 total passes with a whopping 88 percent accuracy. However, it was not enough for Houston who despite their brilliant effort, suffered the same fate as all of LAFC's opponents before them.

"We knew possession is what they wanted," said Hollingshead of the disadvantage in that category. They like to play this little tiki-taka style in the middle of the field, one-twos, but they're going nowhere. So we just said, 'do whatever you want, have the ball as much as you want. They created zero dangerous chances."

The MLS Cup Final will be a reunion between Crew forward Diego Rossi and his former club. Rossi joined LAFC during their inaugural season in 2018, and was with the team through the 2021 season, missing out on the Cup run in 2022.

The MLS Cup final could also mark the final game for LAFC captain Carlos Vela with the black and gold. Vela's contract is set to end after the season, and has not signed an extension.

LAFC will now travel to Columbus, Ohio next Saturday, where one team will raise the MLS Cup trophy again. Kickoff starts at 1:00PM PT on Apple TV and FOX.

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