LAFC blanks Houston to win MLS Western Conference final

LAFC will play for back-to-back MLS Cup titles after beating Houston 2-0 in 2023 Western Conference final

— For the second consecutive season, the Los Angeles Football Club has earned the right to compete for an MLS Cup.

The defending Major League Soccer champions topped the Houston Dynamo 2-0 at BMO Stadium on Saturday, capturing back-to-back Western Conference titles at home over Texas teams.

Defender Ryan Hollingshead connected on the game winner in the 44th minute. Then Houston suffered an own goal late in the second half when defender Franco Escobar, a member of last season’s championship team, knocked it into his net, sealing the result.

LAFC dropped both regular season matches against Houston, but like last season (losing twice to Austin FC before meeting in the conference final), Steve Cherundolo’s group stepped up when it mattered most.

Houston's Franco Escobar scored an own goal in the 80th minute to seal the Western Conference Final for LAFC, which will travel to Columbus next weekend to play for the title. The Crew beat FC Cincinnati 3-2 in a thriller earlier Saturday.

The go-ahead goal came when Vela floated a corner kick toward center back Giorgio Chiellini. The 39-year-old Italian, jousting with Houston’s Hector Herrera in the six-yard box, headed a shot down in front of goalkeeper Steve Clark. His redirected save was pounced on by the 2023 MLS All-Star fullback.

Hollingshead, a former UCLA Bruin, roofed it, giving LAFC what it wanted: the first goal.

In all competitions this year, LAFC is 22-1-4 when jumping ahead. Versus MLS foes, they are unbeaten in that scenario, going 16-0-3.

A third straight clean sheet by LAFC featured five saves by Maxime Crepeau, who last week stood on his head to make a 1-0 lead hold up in Seattle.

Next weekend’s championship match is the third final for LAFC in 2023, having fallen short in both the CONCACAF Champions League against Club León and the Campeones Cup versus Tigres UANL.

One last chance to lift a trophy in 2023, featuring a league record 53 games played in all competitions for LAFC, is an all Black & Gold final on Dec. 9 in Ohio against the Columbus Crew, which advanced past Supporters’ Shield winners FC Cincinnati 3-2 in the Eastern Conference final thanks to goals from former LAFC attackers Diego Rossi and Christian Ramirez.

Like LAFC, Columbus’s path to the MLS Cup comes as a No. 3 seed. Among the 10 original teams during the MLS inaugural season of 1996, Columbus is in search of a third league championship after wins in 2008 and 2020.

LAFC, an expansion club in its sixth year of competition, has the chance to become MLS' first back-to-back champions since the LA Galaxy (2011-12). LAFC never faded or wilted in its 52nd match of 2023 — an MLS record for games in a calendar year, thanks to the club’s competition in several non-league tournaments.