Gareth Bale acknowledged he seems to have a knack for scoring in finals after he became the first player to score in Champions League and MLS Cup finals when helping LAFC to win Major League Soccer’s championship for the first time on Saturday.
Bale headed in a dramatic equalizer in the 128th minute of thrilling final at Los Angeles’ Banc of California Stadium before LAFC went on to defeat the Philadelphia Union 3-0 in a penalty shootout.
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The Welsh star’s goal was the latest scored in MLS history and tied the game at 3-3 after LAFC had twice taken the lead before going down to 10 men in extra time and then falling behind four minutes into stoppage time.
It was Bale’s sixth goal in a major final. Three of them came in Champions League finals — one against Atletico Madrid in 2014 and two, including a spectacular overhead kick, against Liverpool in 2018. He also scored the winner against Barcelona in the 2014 Copa del Rey final before scoring to help Madrid win the Club World Cup final that same year.
« It’s always nice to score in finals and I seem to have a knock of doing that, » Bale said.
« It’s big. It’s important for the club, it’s important for the fans. We were down to 10 men and not really looking like we were going to get anything out of the game. So credit to everybody to keep pushing, keep fighting and, like I said, it was nice to get the goal and to help the team. Where it ranks, I’m not too sure, but it’s a great feeling. »
Bale joined LAFC on a free transfer after his eight-year spell at Real Madrid ended this summer.
But the fitness issues that blighted his last seasons in the Spanish capital have continued since arriving in LA, limiting him to just two starts as LAFC won the Supporters’ Shield.
When he came off the bench in the seventh minute of extra time on Saturday, it was Bale’s first appearance of the playoffs.
« It’s been a difficult transition coming in with no preseason, » Bale acknowledged. « Trying to catch up, it’s been difficult, obviously relocating with my family.
« But I’ve tried to keep as fit as I can, try to help the team as much as I can on and off the pitch and it’s all worth it when you have moments like today. The most important thing was the target to win the MLS Cup final and we’ve managed to do that. »
The 33-year-old cautioned that he’s still not 100 percent fit following a recent knock and admitted that he has been concerned over his condition just over two weeks before he is set to lead Wales into its first World Cup since 1958.
« I’m feeling better and better as time goes on, » he said. « I think it’s been difficult mentally leading into the World Cup. You see how there’s so many players that are dropping out and now they’re missing the World Cup.
« For sure it’s been in the back of my mind, trying to make sure I’m 100% fit. »
Wales’ first game of the World Cup will, coincidentally, come against the United States on Nov. 21. And LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo, who won 87 caps for the US, joked that he hopes Bale doesn’t make a similar impact against the Americans.
« I’m sure he doesn’t, but I’ll be trying to, » Bale responded.