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Clash of styles between Crew and LAFC awaits in MLS Cup
The Columbus Crew seek their third MLS title and Los Angeles FC are aiming for back-to-back championships in Saturday's MLS Cup final which promises to be a true contrast in styles.
The days when MLS teams had largely the same sort of approach - physical and relatively direct - are long gone with the increase in players from South America and coaches from around the world.
Columbus's French coach Wilfried Nancy, who only took over the team a year ago, has swiftly turned the Crew into a team which plays a modern, attractive version of possession football.
LAFC, under American Steve Cherundolo, who spent his playing career in Germany's Bundesliga, are at their most dangerous playing on the counter-attack when they can take full advantage of the pace and goal-threat of Gabon international Denis Bouanga, the league's Golden Boot winner with 20 goals in the regular season.
Those differences should make for a fascinating encounter and while the Crew enjoy home field advantage, with Lower.com Field sold out with heavily local support, their veteran captain Darlington Nagbe, an MLS winner with Portland and Atlanta, knows they can't get carried away by the occasion.
"We have been good at home, consistent at home, put in good performance but it's a final, no-one is going to come here and lay down and LAFC definitely won't do that," he told a news conference on Thursday.
"We have to be disciplined and we have shown that recently against teams that are attacking, powerful and with fast wingers.
"We have grown, we have to obviously to play our game but also stay disciplined and respect our opponent. We have to try to stay patient and trust," he said.
The Crew, winners in 2008 and again in 2020, reached the final thanks to a thrilling comeback win against the top team in the regular season, FC Cincinnati.
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The local derby saw the Crew fall 2-0 down before they rallied late in the game to force extra-time and then win 3-2 thanks to a goal from substitute Christian Ramirez.
The game highlighted how Columbus present a threat with their creative attacking players, in particular Uruguayan Diego Ross, a former LAFC player, playing just behind Colombian striker Cucho Hernandez.
Danish defender Malte Amundsen says it is the talent of the South American pair that gives the team a calmness, even when they trail in games.
"The reason we don't panic is that we know we can score. Not just one or two but in that case three. We knew having the ball, we would get a chance and then could build momentum," he said.
With Bouanga's goals and the wily play of Mexican forward Carlos Vela, LAFC also need no second invitation in front of goal.
It has been a long, hard campaign for the 'Black and Gold' whose campaign began early with a run to the CONCACAF Champions League final, where they lost to Mexican club Leon.
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"We know that we are in a great position and how difficult it is to win a trophy," Vela, who is out of contract after Saturday's final, said.
"It is difficult to win and even more difficult to repeat, but we have shown that our mentality is still strong, we do not let our guard down and we are not happy with just one championship, we want always more
"It will be harder than in 2022 and that was already very hard. We have to give absolutely everything," he said.
With a victory Cherundolo's side would become just the fourth team to defend their title in MLS after D.C. United (1996/97), Houston Dynamo (2006/7) and L.A. Galaxy (2011/12).