Gareth Bale returns from injury to net dramatic equaliser as LAFC win wild MLS Cup final on penalties

Gareth Bale returns from injury to net dramatic equaliser as LAFC win wild MLS Cup final on penalties

Gareth Bale scored a dramatic equaliser in extra-time before reseve goalkeeper John McCarthy shut out Philadelphia in a penalty shootout to lead LAFC to their first MLS Cup championship with a thrilling win in Los Angeles.

Bale, who came on as a late substitute after sitting out the play-offs with a wrist injury, rose up to head a cross from Diego Palacios over Union's Jack Elliott in the 128th minute to level the score at 3-3.

Man of the Match McCarthy, who took over after Maxime Crepeau was taken off the field following a hard collision with Cory Burke, met the moment to secure the 3-0 victory on penalties.

“It's always nice to score in finals, and I seem to have a knack for doing that," Bale, 33, told reporters.

“It's big. It's important for the club. It's important for the fans.”

LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo said of Bale's equalizer: “It's 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. That's why we bring him in those moments."

Pumped up by their rowdy black-and-gold clad fans, the home side were the aggressors early and broke through in the 28th minute when a free-kick by Kellyn Acosta deflected off the head of the Union's Jack McGlynn and past keeper Andre Blake.

In the second half, Philadelphia's Jose Martinez misfired on a shot from distance but the ball found Daniel Gazdag, who buried it into the back of the net to level the contest at 1-1.

LAFC went ahead again in the 83rd minute when Jesus Murillo raced to the goal and headed home a perfectly placed corner kick from Carlos Vela that appeared to be the game winner.

But the lead would prove short-lived, with Philadelphia leveling again two minutes later on a set piece taken by Kai Wagner that Jack Elliott headed past Crepeau for 2-2.

Elliott struck again in the 124th minute to give the visitors their first lead of the match before Bale's heroics four minutes later sent the rollercoaster match to penalties.

Ilie Sanchez scored the decisive penalty to deliver the championship to end the most wild and entertaining final in the North American league's 27-year history.

With the win, LAFC have delivered on the high expectation that came when they joined MLS in 2018.

With its celebrity owners and glamorous stadium, the team assembled a star-studded roster this season that won the club its second Supporters' Shield for the best regular season record.

It appeared to be a case of the rich getting richer when the team welcomed Bale in July but he had limited impact during the regular season and had not been in action all postseason. But he more than delivered for his team when they were against the ropes and down a man.

“The reason why I came here was to try and help the club win the MLS Cup," said Bale, who will captain Wales in the Qatar 2022 World Cup that kicks off later this month.

“You can see how happy everybody is now, the fans, the city. It's important for this club to go to the next level, and I think by winning this trophy, it shows that we are.

“It's a club really on the rise doing the right things and it's an important trophy for us, especially the first one, first major trophy, and hopefully there's more to come in the future."

Additional reporting by Reuters.