Bale rescue act as LAFC down Union to win MLS Cup

Gareth Bale scored a dramatic stoppage-time equalizer before Los Angeles FC defeated Philadelphia Union on penalties to clinch their first MLS Cup crown on Saturday.

Wales star Bale headed home in the eighth minute of time added on after 30 minutes of extra-time to snatch a 3-3 draw for 10-man Los Angeles at the Banc of California Stadium.

Unheralded Los Angeles goalkeeper John McCarthy -- who had only come as a substitute in the 117th minute after Maxime Crepeau was sent off -- then saved twice in the shootout before Ilie Sanchez struck the winning spot-kick.

Relieved Los Angeles coach Steve Cherundolo praised the game-saving contribution of Bale after the win.

"It's Gareth being Gareth," Cherundolo said. "He's a big player with big qualities and a guy who makes big plays."

But Cherundolo joked that Bale's knack of rising to the occasion does not extend to Wales' World Cup opener against the United States in Qatar on November 21.

"Let's hope he doesn’t in the first game of the World Cup for all the Americans here," Cherundolo said.

"But it was just Gareth being Gareth. He does it in training, he's done it this season, when he's feeling well and healthy he makes a difference in games. And that's why we bring him on in those moments."

Former Real Madrid star Bale meanwhile was left delighted after scoring another goal in a major final -- he has also netted in three different Champions League finals.

"It's always nice to score in finals and I seem to have the knack of doing that," Bale said. "It's big. It's important for the club, it's important for the fans.

"Credit to everybody to keep pushing and to keep fighting. It was nice to get the goal and help the team. Where it ranks? I’m not too sure -- but it's a great feeling."

- Shoot out drama -

Bale had not appeared at all for Los Angeles during their march through the playoffs to Major League Soccer's championship game.

But the veteran Welshman was brought on in extra-time for Los Angeles captain Carlos Vela after the game had finished 90 minutes locked at 2-2.

It looked as if Bale's appearance would be in vain, however, as momentum appeared to swing decisively in Philadelphia's favor in the second period of extra-time.

Los Angeles goalkeeper Crepeau was dismissed for bringing down Cory Burke as the Philadelphia substitute bore down on goal.

That brought inexperienced back-up John McCarthy onto the field with three minutes remaining.

Union looked to have scored a knockout blow in the fourth minute of time added on at the end of extra-time, jabbing home a close range effort to make it 3-2 and leave a raucous crowd stunned.

But with time ticking down, Diego Palacios picked out Bale with a pinpoint cross and the forward strained every sinew to nod in a sensational equalizer to make it 3-3.

That set up a nerve-shredding shootout that saw McCarthy emerge as the hero.

After Los Angeles and Philadelphia missed their opening spot kicks, Denis Bouanga made no mistake to put LA 1-0 up.

Philadelphia midfielder Jose Martinez then saw his penalty brilliantly saved by McCarthy before fullback Ryan Hollingshead smashed in his spot kick to make it 2-0 Los Angeles.

Philadelphia defender Kai Wagner then saw his penalty saved by McCarthy to leave Spanish midfielder Ilie Sanchez the chance to seal the win.

The playmaker duly converted to spark wild celebrations as Los Angeles celebrated their first MLS crown.

Union coach Jim Curtin was left shattered by the loss.

"I don’t know if I’ll watch that game back," Curtin said. "I feel like it aged me five or six years.

"I feel for the players. I don't often say that I'm proud of the players after a defeat, but I'm incredibly proud of the team today.

"It was a great game and just unfortunate we came out on the wrong side."

The game had gone to extra-time after a roller coaster end to regulation.

Los Angeles had taken the lead in the first half with a deflected Kellyn Acosta free kick before Gazdag leveled in the 59th minute.

Jesus Murillo gave Los Angeles a 2-1 lead with seven minutes remaining on a superb header.

But Philadelphia defender Elliott headed home Wagner's cross in the 85th minute to set up the extra-time drama.

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