Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to MLS Cup Final 2020! In what certainly has been a challenging regular season brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, two teams at last will compete for the right to become the champion of Major League Soccer in its 25th season. This Final, league original Columbus Crew represents the Eastern Conference, battling the modern-day MLS juggernaut that sets the standard for all teams across the league, the Seattle Sounders representing the Western Conference. One club’s season will end in glory the other club season will end empty handed. It’s the Seattle Sounders versus the Columbus Crew.
Columbus Crew: Established as one of the league originals, the Crew is one of the most historic teams in MLS. In 1999, the club would move into their current home MAPFRE Stadium. It was the first ever soccer specific stadium for the league and was considered state of the art setting the standard for future franchises. The team struggled in it’s early years but things would eventually click at the end of the 2000’s. In 2008 Columbus won their first ever MLS Cup. Since then the team suffered several leaner years and in 2017 the club was almost relocated entirely to Austin, Texas. Fortunately, a new ownership group stepped in and the team plans to move in midsummer next year to a new stadium in the downtown area of Columbus. Some of the greatest players in the team’s history include Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Brian McBride, Chad Marshall, Federico Higuain, Jeff Cunningham, Robert Warzycha and Frankie Hejduk
Seattle Sounders: Joining Major League Soccer in 2009, the Seattle Sounders have been the modern-day model for all teams across the league. The club plays at the raucous recently renamed Lumen Field in front of 40,000 supporters. The team has accumulated 4 US Open Cups, 4 Western Conference Championships, 1 Supporters Shield, and 2 MLS Cups looking to add another trophy to their ever-expanding trophy case. The team currently holds second place for one of the longest active playoff streaks for a professional sports league in the United States, going to the playoffs for 12 straight seasons. The team has a resume of talent from international players, local legends, and homegrown talent over the years. This includes players such as Kasey Keller, Osvaldo Alonso, DeAndre Yedlin, Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris, Chad Marshall among many others who have stamped their legacy into the fan’s hearts and the team’s history. It’s without a doubt the Sounders have raised the bar for the league and will continue to raise those expectations even further.
How They Got Here
Columbus Crew: Finishing in third place of the Eastern Conference in the regular season, Columbus looked like the team that remained the most concentrated on their goal. For a while, they were leaders in the race for the Supporter Shield. They would lose grip on that race late in the season to Toronto FC who briefly snatched the lead, before Philadelphia Union would be the eventual winner. Ultimately the Crew are quite happy where they are having lost out on the Supporters Shield but in MLS Cup Final. In the round one match, they would hold off the New York RedBulls 3-2.
However, it was the Eastern Conference Semi-Final match against Nashville SC that would prove to be the team’s test of character and endurance. Nashville sent the match into overtime with the score 0-0 at the end of regulation. It was from the first half of over time the Crew outlasted Nashville, with goals scored by Pedro Santos and Gyasi Zardes, going on to win 2-0. In the Eastern Conference Final, the Crew, advanced over the New England Revolution 1-0 playing like they were the winning that match by 2 goals or more. This season including the playoffs, the Crew have made MAPFRE Stadium a fortress that is impossible for visitors to leave with a win or draw. They have a 12 wins no draws and lost only one match. They certainly have made home field advantage count.
Seattle Sounders: Finishing in second place of the Western Conference, the Sounders would first play an out of sorts LAFC in round one of the MLS Cup Playoffs at home. Goals from Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris, and Raul Ruidiaz would prove too great for LAFC as the Sounders would advance to the Western Conference Semi-Finals a final score of 3-1. They would then go onto play FC Dallas in the Western Conference Semi-Finals at home. FC Dallas would prove more of a challenge to the Sounders. A goal scored off a corner by center back Shane O’Neill in the 49th minute was all the club needed to advance to the Western Conference Final. The Western Conference Final match at Lumen Field against Minnesota United proved to be the Sounders biggest test all season leading to MLS Cup Final. In true fashion the Sounders stunned the league, fans, and pundits overcoming a 2-goal deficit with 3 goals in the second half.
Three Players to Watch
Gyasi Zardes ST 12 goals 4 assists 41 shots
Jonathan Mensah CB 30 blocks 114 clearances 1,473 passes as a defender
Lucas Zelarayan CAM 6 goals 4 assists 1039 minutes played
Perhaps the crucial player of these three is Zelarayán. As more team’s sign midfield playmakers to their designated players spots to compete for MLS Cup as the league evolves, Columbus had to do the same. Lucas had only 6 goals and 4 assists in the regular season but it’s the things he does on the pitch that’s not recorded in the scoresheet that makes him valuable. His ability to be that link from defense to the offense stringing passes to his outside wingers, dribbling the ball to lure defenders to open space up for his teammates to be in areas to score unmarked. He’s been everything the team needed to compete for a shot at MLS Cup.
Raul Ruidiaz ST 12 goals 4 assists 23 shots on goals
Jordan Morris LW 10 goals 8 assists
Nicolas Lodeiro CAM 7 goals 10 assists
Nicolas Lodeiro is the designated player that took the Sounders to the next level of greatness. On the field he’s appeared in every MLS Cup Final the team has been in. He has spearhead a dangerous offensive trio with Raul Ruidiaz and Jordan Morris. Those three have been lights out together and have remained constantly dangerous for opponents’ defense. His contributions as a Sounder is difficult to replicate and Saturday, he will be tasked again of leading the team to victory yet again.
The Big Questions
The big question for Columbus Crew in the match is how does the team move on without central midfielder Darlington Nagbe and left midfielder Pedro Santos? On Thursday night the two were ruled out as medically not cleared to play as both players tested positive for Covid-19. Having lost two players two days before the final is a blow many clubs can’t recover from. This makes it extremely difficult for Head Coach Caleb Porter when writing a starting eleven for the final. What players whether they be rookie or veteran can fill the roles that doesn’t completely alter the game plan? Those questions will be answered for the Crew at the end of match.
The biggest question for the Sounders is how to not repeat MLS Cup Final 2017? The Sounders returned to MLS Cup in Toronto for the rematch with an even stronger team than the year before. They didn’t comprehend how badly Toronto FC wanted to avenge their loss the year earlier. Right from the kickoff Sounders were tested once again by barrage of shots which Stefan Frei had to save. Unlike the previous final, Toronto would break through scoring twice winning MLS Cup on their home soil. The Sounders have a second chance to successfully defend the title as MLS Cup Champions in 2020 fortunately against a different opponent in less colder weather conditions this time. How do they defend MLS Cup playing away from home in a stadium against an opponent that has lost only once in their own backyard?