Tuesday, July 23, 2024

LAFC’s Latif Blessing says team is ‘focused’ ahead of MLS Cup against Philadelphia

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A couple of weeks ago, Latif Blessing, one of two Los Angeles Football Club originals from 2018 with a shot at winning the MLS Cup while wearing Black & Gold on Saturday, made sure to tell his teammates something they already knew.

“I’ve been here for five years,” the 25-year-old Ghanian midfielder said. “I talk to the guys.”

Three more wins, he told them. Three wins and we’re champions.

“I think they listen to me,” Blessing told reporters on Wednesday. “When I say that, everyone is like, ‘OK, Latif says that so let’s keep going.’”

When Blessing arrived at the LAFC performance training center as practice resumed ahead of Saturday’s MLS Cup title match at Banc of California Stadium against the Philadelphia Union, he said everybody told him something he already knew, too.

“Only one more game,” was the message. “Only one more game.”

When LAFC was the best team in MLS in 2019 but failed to advance to the MLS Cup, Blessing said the team suffered from a lack of experience.

Not so three years later following a pair of playoff wins, including LAFC’s best performance of the season in its Western Conference final triumph against Austin FC.

Blessing did not see the field last weekend. Regardless of his vantage point for what could be his last contest with LAFC if the option on his contract is not picked up, the man with the most regular-season appearances in club history (145, which is 27 more than fellow 2018 alum and captain Carlos Vela) declared that “everybody is ready” to play for the MLS Cup on their home turf.

“You can see everybody’s face,” Blessing said. “Things change. Everybody is focused.”


• Depth and experience were reliable signposts for LAFC’s success in 2022. And ahead of the club’s second final (2020 CONCACAF Champions League), 17 players on the roster will make their MLS Cup debut with at least one club championship appearance on their ledger. Gareth Bale (12) leads the way among the group, which has collected 36 appearances around the world. No surprise, Giorgio Chiellini is next with five. At three, Franco Escobar is the only LAFC player to participate in an MLS Cup, which he won in 2018 with Atlanta United. One win from lifting his coveted first club trophy, Vela, the 2019 MLS MVP, is among six players who featured in the team’s Champions League final.

• Ismail Elfath, the 2020 and 2022 MLS Referee of the Year, is assigned to officiate his first MLS Cup a few weeks before working the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Elfath handled the Oct. 2 match in Portland when LAFC clinched the Supporters’ Shield in stoppage time. He also oversaw LAFC’s 3-2 victory over San Jose, a 2-1 victory at Cincinnati and a 1-1 draw in L.A. in which Timbers player Claudio Bravo was shown a red card in the 62nd minute. Elfath took the whistle for Philadelphia’s 4-1 victory over Chicago in August.

• Because the grounds around Banc of California Stadium aren’t available for typical pre-match festivities on Saturday because of a conflict with USC football, gates to the stadium will open an hour earlier than usual since Christmas Tree Lane is inaccessible. Hoping to entice fans to arrive early, concessions, including beer, will be half-price from 10:30-11:30 a.m.

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