It will be just the fourth meeting between Columbus, an MLS original franchise, and LAFC, an MLS expansion team debuting in 2018. LAFC won all three previous encounters, including two games in Columbus, by a total of 7-0.
Columbus went from nearly being sold and relocated to now being on the verge of its second MLS Cup title in four years. LAFC is looking to become the third team to repeat as MLS Cup champions and the first since the Houston Dynamo did so in 2006-07.
The Crew had an improbable comeback win in the Eastern Conference Finals. Trailing 2-0 away against FC Cincinnati, Columbus scored twice in the final 15 minutes to extend the game before winning it in extra time.
Since September 20, Columbus has one loss in 11 games. The Crew are also lethal in front of goal, led by Cucho Hernandez's 20-goal regular season and four-goal postseason campaign. Columbus led all of MLS with 67 goals in the regular season and 15 goals in five postseason games. They can also leak goals defensively, conceding eight postseason goals.
The only player who scored more than Hernandez is MLS Golden Boot winner Denis Bouanga, who scored 23 goals for LAFC in the regular season and four more in the playoffs. LAFC enters the matchup on a three-game shutout streak. Throughout the shutout streak, where they've outscored opponents 4-0, LAFC has conceded most of the possession percentage in all three games to average about 35% possession across those three contests.
The home team has won five of the last six MLS Cup Finals. If there is a team that can win on the road, then it is LAFC. They only won four away games during the regular season but won both of their road games in the playoffs against Cascadian foes. LAFC won away to the Vancouver Whitecaps before conquering the Seattle Sounders, traditionally one of the most challenging environments in MLS.
It is a return home for Columbus for the first time in nearly a month after playing and winning their only two home games of the playoffs. After going 12-1-4 in the regular season on home soil, their home support will be up for the challenge on Saturday.
Many will pick LAFC for their fear factor of being the reigning champions with a much more star-studded lineup, including former Mexican international forward Carlos Vela and legendary Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. I see this game as a low-scoring affair due to LAFC's experienced defense.
Given how difficult it is to win on the road in MLS and repeat as champions, I think Columbus takes the 2023 MLS Cup. They are too good not to capitalize on all the possession they will have but must be wary of transitions and defending set pieces.