LOS ANGELES (AP) — Even at less than 100%, Gareth Bale can still make a huge impact on a game.
The Welsh superstar showed during Saturday's MLS Cup final between Los Angeles Football Club and the Philadelphia Union that he shouldn't be underestimated going into the World Cup.
Bale saw his first action in over a month and delivered a tying goal deep into stoppage time in extra time with his squad a man down. LAFC went on to capture its first MLS Cup trophy with a 3-0 win in penalty kicks.
“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,” LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo said of the 33-year old Bale. “That’s why we bring him in in those moments. I wish he was 24.”
Bale came on for Carlos Vela in the 97th minute for his first action since Oct. 2. Bale has been dealing with an unspecified injury, but told Cherundolo that he would be available for the final 20 to 30 minutes of the game, if needed.
“I’m not 100% at the moment. I’m still coming back,” Bale said. "I haven’t trained too much over the last three or four weeks because I’ve had this little slight issue. I was able to come on for the last 20, 30 minutes, and just give as much as I can.
“Glad I came up with a goal to help the team. Yeah, that’s what I’m here to do, I guess.”
Bale had only 13 touches, but made his last one memorable. During the eighth minute of extra-time stoppage time, Diego Palacios delivered a crossing pass deep into the box and the 6-foot-1 Bale skied over Philadelphia 6-6 defender Jack Elliott to deliver a header past goaltender Jason Blake.
It was Bale's third goal with LAFC and his first since Aug. 6 against Real Salt Lake. At 128 minutes, it was also the latest goal scored in MLS' 27 seasons.
It was also Bale’s sixth goal in a major final. Five came with Real Madrid, including three in two Champions League finals.
“It’s always nice to score in finals, and I seem to have a knack for doing that,” he said. "It’s big. It’s important for the club. It’s important for the fans.
“Like I said, we were down to 10 men, I guess not really looking like we were going to get anything out of the game. Credit to everybody and to keep pushing and keep fighting.”
After nine years with Real Madrid, Bale came to the United States and MLS in July mainly to prepare for Wales' first appearance in the World Cup in 64 years. Wales begins group play on Nov. 21 against the United States, before facing Iran on Nov. 25 and a Nov. 29 clash against England.
Bale said he is feeling better as the World Cup draws near.
“Obviously, I’ve had a few setbacks. I had a slight knock a couple of weeks ago which kept me out for 10 days,” he said. “For sure it’s been in the back of my mind trying to make sure I’m 100% fit. Today, obviously, I felt good enough to come on the pitch and help the team. Obviously, like I said, happy to see us lifting that trophy.”
Cherundolo is hoping that Bale can play well against the World Cup, except for one game.
“He’s a guy with big qualities and a guy who makes big plays. Let’s hope he doesn’t in the first game of the World Cup for all the Americans in the room,” Cherundolo said.
Bale laughed when he heard about Cherundolo's comment and replied: “I’m sure he doesn’t, but I’ll be trying to.”
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Joe Reedy, The Associated Press