The 2020 Major League Soccer final match is set for Saturday and will feature the defending champion Seattle Sounders taking on the Columbus Crew. It will be the 25th time the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy will be handed out.
Seattle will be making its fourth appearance in the league final in the past five years. They will be seeking the franchise’s third league trophy and a chance to become just the fourth back-to-back MLS Cup winners in league history.
But before I dive into a match preview, I must address the breathtaking Western Conference final game that took place on Monday night.
I’ve seen a lot of sporting events in this city and until now thought the Seahawks’ improbable come-from-behind victory over the Green Bay Packers in the 2015 NFC Championship game was the most exciting game I’ve seen in Seattle.
Monday night’s game was as good, maybe even better, than that Seahawks win.
The Sounders scored three goals in 18 minutes to snatch a victory from Minnesota United FC and move on to the title game.
Minnesota took a 2-0 lead into the 77th minute before head coach Brian Schmetzer turned to his bench and brought in forward Will Bruin and midfielder Gustav Svensson.
The Sounders had struggled all night to create good chances and rarely threatened the Lions’ goal. Forward Jordan Morris had the best look, banging a left-footed shot off the post in the 65th minute. That would have tied the score.
Minnesota quickly raced to the other end of the field and put a dagger in the home team, scoring a second goal off a free-kick header.
All seemed lost at that point and the Seattle players looked completely dazed and confused.
But it all changed in a blink of an eye. It was ‘Schmetzer Time.’
That catchy phrase is the term being used by Sounders loyalists when Seattle’s head coach digs into his bench for a little bit of magic.
On Monday night, it worked to perfection.
In came Bruin and Svensson and the field seemed to tilt in the Sounders’ direction. There was more energy, the ball was moving faster, and desperation turned to sheer will.
Will that is, as in Will Bruin.
The substitute forward pounced on a Raul Ruidiaz blocked shot and knocked in the team’s first goal in the 78thminute.
A glimmer of hope was all the Sounders needed and you could feel the change of momentum after that goal.
The Sounders pressed Minnesota from that point forward and a second goal seemed inevitable. Chance after chance was thwarted but you could see the opponent’s tiring legs. The tying goal came via Ruidiaz as he blasted home a corner kick in the 88th minute.
As a Sounder season ticket holder, not seeing this game in person was brutal. I can only imagine the noise that second goal would have created with 40-thousand-plus Seattle fans jumping up and down.
But the Sounders weren’t done. Could they really win this game in regulation?
The improbable comeback climaxed with a flick header goal to the far post from Svensson in the 93rd minute.
It was complete pandemonium on the field and in my living room. That goal would have given the Beastquake a run for its money as far as being the loudest event in the newly-named Lumen Field.
The Sounders, as a franchise, just never seem to quit. Even when they are down, they are never quite out of any game. Sure, there have been heart-breaking losses and games they should have won. But when it really, really matters, this team seems to step up to the challenge, especially during the playoffs, and succeed. It is truly amazing.
That tenacity and confidence is why I think they Sounders will fare well in Saturday’s big game.
MLS Cup Preview
The Sounders opponent on Saturday, the Columbus Crew, are no slouches and very much deserve to be in this game.
And to have the game on their home field creates even more of a challenge for Seattle.
The Crew compiled a 12-6-5 record during this on-again-off-again season but did most of their damage on their home turf. They lost just one home game this season while winning nine others; a blessing as they failed to win a road game during the regular season.
So how have the Crew gotten to the championship game?
Besides their success at home, the Crew has ridden their defense, led by Ghanaian international defender, Jonathan Mensah, in the playoffs. They have yet to give up a goal in 210 minutes of playoff action and just 21 goals all season. But again, all their playoff games have been at home.
The Crew offense is led by forward Gyasi Zardes, who scored 12 goals in 21 regular-season matches in 2020 and Argentine Lucas Zelarayan, a midfielder who came over from Liga MX side Tigres and when healthy, registered six goals and four assists in his debut season. Pedro Santos has also contributed with a six-goal, eight-assist season.
The two teams last met on March 7, the final game before the season was put on hold for the pandemic. After surrendering an early goal to Zardes, that game ended in a 1-1 tie with Ruidiaz scoring on a late penalty kick.
So how do I see this game playing out?
I think this will be a low-scoring, defensive battle. I believe both teams will be cautious in their approach and will look to capitalize on a mistake by their opponent
Seattle will obviously ride their three horsemen in Raul Ruidiaz (12 goals, 4 assists), Nicolas Lodeiro (7 goals, 10 assists), and Jordan Morris (10 goals, 8 assists) who were all vital throughout the season.
Schmetzer’s lineup should be a point of interest as well. Barring any injuries or pandemic losses, the Sounders should have their full complement of players. So far in these playoffs the coach has chosen a younger defense in favor of some more experienced players on the bench. Alex Roldan and Nouhou have occupied the outside back positions and Shane O’Neill in the middle of the back line. But will Schmetzer decide to go back to his veterans in Kelvin Leerdam, Svensson or Brad Smith for the big game? That will be interesting to watch.
Columbus head coach Caleb Porter knows the Sounders well, having coached the arch-rival Portland Timbers for four seasons before taking over the Crew. He is no stranger to this game either. The Timbers beat the Crew for the title in 2015.
So, this should be a real chess match between the coaches and these two teams.
For my money, I think the Sounders’ experience in the playoffs and especially in the finals will be the difference. If the Sounders can avoid getting behind early, I think the final score will be 2-1, Seattle.
A third trophy in five years would be quite an accomplishment for Seattle. The talk of a true dynasty will not be unwarranted.
Enjoy the game. I know I will.
Fun fact: This will be the third MLS Cup staged in Columbus, with the San Jose Earthquakes beating the LA Galaxy in extra time in 2001 and the Crew bowing to the Timbers in 2015. Columbus’s lone title came in 2008, with a triumph over the New York Red Bulls in Southern California.