For the first time in 19 years, the top teams in each of Major League Soccer's conferences have reached the MLS Cup final. Both teams are aiming for their first league title, and the respective paths the organizations took couldn't have been more different.

Philadelphia Union's arrival to the final has been a long, steady climb. The Union qualified for the playoffs just twice in their first eight years. But starting in 2018, the club hit upon a formula of heavy reliance on its academy -- Jack McGlynn is the latest to pass through and make an impact -- combined with astute mining of the transfer market, picking up the likes of left back Kai Wagner and holding midfielder Jose Martinez, to become one of the most consistent performers in the league. The last three seasons have seen the Union finish no lower than third in the Eastern Conference, with the Supporters Shield being claimed in 2020.

This season saw Philadelphia claim another Eastern Conference regular-season title, but with a twist. The Union's defensive backbone remained in place, setting an MLS record with just 26 goals conceded. But added to it was an attack that scored a league-best 72 goals, with Daniel Gazdag bagging 22 goals to go along 10 assists.

By comparison, LAFC's march to the final has been more caffeine-infused. The Black-and-Gold were competitive from the moment they started play in 2018, winning the Supporters Shield a year later. A year after that, LAFC nearly claimed the CONCACAF Champions League in 2020, squandering a second-half lead against Tigres. There was the bump in the road that saw the team miss the postseason in 2021, but LAFC retooled with some astute pickups of their own, like holding midfielder Ilie Sanchez and right back Ryan Hollingshead.

There is a tendency to think this matchup boils down to whether LAFC can break down Philly's defense, and that will certainly be a factor. Philadelphia had the third-lowest possession percentage in the league at 43.6%, while LAFC had the 10th best at 51.1%, so this is a match where the Black-and-Gold figure to have more of the ball. LAFC's attacking trident of Cristian Arango, Denis Bouanga and Carlos Vela has shown it is adept at wearing opponents down, especially in the postseason.