LAFC, Whitecaps meet again to open playoffs after quick turnaround

Los Angeles FC begin their defense of the MLS Cup title when they play host to the Vancouver Whitecaps in Game 1 of a best-of-three series on Saturday.

The two sides played to a 1-1 draw on Decision Day last week. Across all competitions, LAFC and the Whitecaps have met four times this season, with Los Angeles holding a 2-1-1 advantage.

At home, LAFC is 4-1-3 against the Whitecaps all time, with the only loss coming in June — a 3-2 Vancouver victory.

“You have the strange anomaly that you’re playing the same team you played on the last day of the season, so the preparation has been a little easier. You have less new material to cover,” LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo said.

“I don’t think either team is going to try to reinvent itself in the next three games. Both teams have been pretty consistent down the stretch of the season, so not a whole lot of secrets out there anymore so now it’s up to the players to decide who gets to advance.”

LAFC, who finished third in the Western Conference, have been led by the league’s top scorer, Denis Bouanga. The French forward scored his 20th goal last Saturday to secure the 2023 MLS Golden Boot award.

This is the first MLS Cup Playoffs meeting between the Whitecaps and LAFC.

Vancouver finished the regular season sixth in the Western Conference and heads to Los Angeles with a 4-7-6 away record this season.

“It’s hard to be unpredictable, but at the same time, even if you’re not unpredictable, you can still be dangerous. For example, LAFC played against us the same way for four games, in the same kind of system, same kind of lineup and same kind of ideas, and they were very hard to beat,” Whitecaps coach Vanni Sartini said.

“I think being consistent in the performance is more important sometimes than being unpredictable. We know we can throw something different at them if needed, but I think the most important thing is to focus on the quality of our performance.”

The Whitecaps have been paced offensively by striker Brian White, who scored 15 goals and added five assists in 32 MLS matches, and midfielder Ryan Gauld, who contributed 11 goals and 12 assists in 32 matches.