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MLS Cup 2023 stars to watch: Carlos Vela, Giorgio Chiellini, Cucho Hernández...

Columbus Crew host LAFC in the finale of a thrilling MLS season. We take a look at the key players from both sides.

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MLS Cup: Players to watch
Armando Arorizo / EFE / MARK LYONS / Joe Nicholson / USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con / Katie Stratman

Two of the strongest squads in the league go head-to-head in MLS Cup on Saturday.

Columbus Crew have home advantage at Lower.com Field but visitors LAFC are the reigning MLS champions. Both teams boast experienced defensive stars and ruthless attackers, while Steve Cherundolo and Wilfried Nancy rank among the most highly-respected head coaches in the league.

Follow Columbus Crew - LAFC live online: MLS Cup Final 2023 | Score, stats and updates.

The Crew arrive as a slight favourites after beating Supporters Shield winners FC Cincinnati in the Eastern Conference final. LAFC are looking to become the first team in more than a decade to retain the MLS Cup title.

Both Columbus and LAFC rely on a well-honed style-of-play, accented by the abilities of a few star performers. Ahead of the winner-takes-all finale, we take a look at the key players for each side...

MLS Cup players to watch: Columbus Crew

Diego Rossi

The Uruguayan takes on former team LAFC, with whom he won the Supporters’ Shield in 2019. He is good friends with LAFC captain Carlos Vela and shares his creative streak. Rossi’s ability to drift across the pitch and generate overloads makes him a difficult player to stop when he is on form.

Cucho Hernández

The Colombian striker has been key throughout the season for the Crew and his influence goes beyond the 20 goals and eight assists that he has recorded. He acts as the focal points for Columbus’ fluid attacking system and has proved capable of occupying an entire backline on his own.

Columbus Crew upset the odds to defeat FC Cincinnati in the Easter Conference final.
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Columbus Crew upset the odds to defeat FC Cincinnati in the Easter Conference final.Aaron DosterUSA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Darlington Nagbe

The heartbeat of this Crew team, Nagbe brings almost unrivalled MLS experience to Wilfried Nancy’s exciting team. The combative, controlling midfielder has already lifted MLS Cup on three occasions and is looking to become just the ninth player to win it four or more times. His calming presence in the middle will be crucial against an experienced LAFC side.

Alexandru Matan

Romanian winger, Alexandru Matan struggled to make an impact last year but has become a regular starter under Nancy. He brings searing pace and direct running to the team, linking well with Cucho Hernandez to stretch opposition defences. He will give LAFC’s attack-minded full-backs something to think about.

MLS Cup players to watch: LAFC

Carlos Vela

Rumours about the LAFC captain’s future persists, but on Saturday the Mexican will be focused on leading his team to back-to-back titles. Now 34 years old, he has lost a yard of pace but retains the speed of thought and the inventiveness that marked him out as a prospect in Europe. He has not had his most productive season in terms of goals, but he could still be the match-winner for LAFC.

Denis Boaunga

The MLS Golden Boot winner starred in the regular season but his ruthlessness has really been apparent in the post-season. His goals secured crucial 1-0 victories over Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps and he is looking to make his mark on the final. He has scored 37 goals for LAFC in 2023, putting him just one goal short of the MLS record. You would not bet against him breaking that record on the biggest stage of all.

Already Western Conference winners, LAFC are looking to retain MLS Cup.
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Already Western Conference winners, LAFC are looking to retain MLS Cup.Armando ArorizoEFE

Illie Sánchez

An often-overlooked member of a star-studded team, the Spaniard’s metronomic passing and reading of the game are essential. Sánchez is also a key player off-the-ball, owing to his ability to recover at pace. In recent years he has become a real leader in this LAFC side and he featured in every single regular season game for Steve Cherundolo’s side this year.

Giorgio Chiellini

After a stellar career in Europe, some thought that his move to MLS was simply a precursor to retirement. But, now 39, Chiellini retains his insatiable will to win and he is a key part of this LAFC team. His top-level experience was crucial in narrow playoff victories and he brings an elite attitude that very few involved on Saturday can match.