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LAFC goalie John McCarthy aims to build on his career from MLS Cup moment

It only took a few minutes, accounting for just a fraction of a fraction of the playing time John McCarthyseven-year professional football career.

However, his performance in goal in the final moments of LAFC’s MLS Cup win last November changed his life.

“It’s like a dream thing,” he said. “The way it happened, how it happened; I’m not changing that dream. Winning is everything to me. So to be a part of that in such a crazy way. It was amazing.”

With LAFC and the Philadelphia Union tied and seemingly headed for penalties with three minutes remaining in the second overtime, McCarthy was rushed onto the field after starting goaltender Maxime Crepeau broke his leg in a collision with Philadelphia’s Cory Burke.

Before he had even broken a sweat, McCarthy gave up the go-ahead goal.

But Gareth Bale saved his team-mate by leveling the score deep into stoppage time, giving McCarthy the chance to become the hero in a penalty shootout that would decide the championship.

Penalty kicks are a goalkeeper’s worst nightmare or fondest dream. There is no gray area; you are either the GOAT or the goat. Save and you’re the best of all time. Give up a goal and you walk off the field alone.

On this day, McCarthy, who had not stopped a penalty attempt in seven MLS seasons, did not let a shot go by and LAFC converted three of his four shots to win the title. That performance earned McCarthy more than just a ring — one he’ll receive in a ceremony for Saturday’s season opener with Portland at BMO Stadium — but it also earned him MVP honors and the starting job heading into this season, said LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo. .

“At this moment,” he said, “John will begin.”

McCarthy, 30, has started as many as a dozen games in a season just once in his career; only once did he open a season as his team’s starter. However, with Crepeau still sidelined for a few months, this year McCarthy beat England’s last-playing Eldin Jakupovic for the number 1 job.

“It’s a big opportunity,” McCarthy said. “So whether I play for a week, two weeks or 10 weeks, I plan to play as much as possible and make the most of my opportunities.”

And, he added, he doesn’t think beyond that.

LAFC goalkeeper John McCarthy dives to block a Philadelphia Union player’s shot during penalty kicks in the MLS Cup on Nov. 5, 2022.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“I don’t think you can look past this weekend,” he said. “The final is in December. That’s our goal. But once you start thinking that’s where you want to be and that’s all you care about, you’ll get caught up in missing out on the opportunity in front of you.

“Nothing changes,” he added. “It’s still day by day, match by match.”

But as much as McCarthy struggles to focus on the present, he can’t forget the recent past – mainly because people won’t let him.

In Philadelphia, where McCarthy grew up and spent most of his MLS career, friends still berate him for contributing to the worst fall and winter in the city’s sports history, one in which the Phillies lost the World Series and the Union and the Eagles lost. in their respective championship games.

“Many of my close friends cheered for Philly. That’s who I would have cheered for any day but that day,” McCarthy said of the MLS Cup final. “So there’s no hate, no bad blood.”

Maybe not from his friends, but as the reigning MLS champions, LAFC is going into the new season as the team everyone wants to beat.

“If there’s a target on our backs, fine. If not, fine,” McCarthy said. “It shouldn’t affect us in any way. We shouldn’t think otherwise.”

For McCarthy, however, everything is different after last season.

“Yeah, I don’t think anyone could have written that,” he said of the final. “It was a great moment in my career. It must be the pinnacle moment for sure.

“I hope there will be another bigger and better one. But winning an MLS championship is everything.”