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What players to watch in the MLS Western Conference Final: LAFC - Austin FC

The MLS Conference Finals are upon us - but who should you be keeping an eye on?

Joe Brennan
Chicho Arango llegó a 8 goles en lo que va del 2022 tras su anotación ante New York Red Bull
MLS Oficial

As we tick along nicely to the culmination of the season, the questions swirl about exactly who will be the hero for their team in the most important 90 minutes of the year. Everything leads to this, and the elation/devastation split will be fierce when the referee signals the end - but just who will decide how things go? Who should you be watching carefully as the story unfolds? In this section we will take a look at the potential match winners (or losers) in the first of the finals: LAFC vs Austin FC.

Attack, attack, attack!

The old adage is, well, old - but it remains true: goals win games. In the semi-final stage, LAFC came back in dramatic fashion to win 3-2 against their city rivals LA Galaxy in El Tráfico. A last-gasp strike from Chicho Arango put the ‘black and gold’ into the final, so surely the Colombian comes into the final full of confidence and is definitely one to watch.

As well as him there is his teammate, Carlos Vela. A seasoned pro can go one of two ways: age and grow in experience, calmness and style, or grow heavy, slow and tired - Vela is without a doubt a member of the former. His explosiveness and immediate sense of danger has, over the years, converted into a cool, commanding aura, yet he still possesses the ability to turn back into the Carlos Vela of old and smack one in the net from wherever he chooses. Obvious choices, I know, but they really are the two danger-men for LAFC.

As for Austin, they have relied on Driussi for the 2022 season and things haven’t gone badly whatsoever: 22 goals puts him at nosebleed altitude on the top scorers list, just one behind leader Mukhtar from Nashville SC. Driussi has that lethal mix of a thunderous shot combined almost Chicharito-esque movement, pulling away from the defender at the last moment and from there he can slip the ball past the goalkeeper with an almost unfair sense of nonchalance. It helps as well that he has the league’s most creative player behind him in Diego Fagúndez, who has managed to grab 15 assists during the season - the second-highest number in the league.

The Driussi-Fagúndez duo will know how to create danger versus LAFC
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The Driussi-Fagúndez duo will know how to create danger versus LAFCScott WachterUSA TODAY Sports

Goals win games, so who can stop them?

At the other end of the pitch, Diego Palacios stands out for LAFC. Sitting comfortably in the top 5 players in the league for tackles (55), the Ecuadorian makes up for his short stature by being tough on the ground. The full-back has played 28 times so far and only received 8 yellow cards; more surprising is the fact he has got 7 assists.

Maxime Crépeau may have 91 games of MLS experience but the statistical analysis of his games does not do him many favours. This season he has featured 33 times and only managed to keep the opponent out his goal on 9 occasions. It is, of course, understood that it cannot entirely be his fault but the numbers on the page suggest that Austin FC may begin to have some fun if they can assert themselves and keep the ‘black and gold’ attackers at bay.

Quite understandably, LAFC come into the game as favourites, but keep in mind that Austin were the only team to beat them twice this season. And it will be a game in which the tension will be kept alive until the last minute, as over half of the goals between these two sides (8/15) have come in the last half an hour of play.

For the ‘who to watch’ for NYCFC - Philadelphia Union, click here.