MLS Cup Final – Crew defeat Sounders FC 3-0

(Duplicate post of ProstAmerika article as is normal practice for when covering Sounders FC, although this was virtual coverage.)

Seattle Sounders FC 0

Columbus Crew SC 3

MLS Cup Final

December 12, 2020

MAPFRE Stadium – Columbus, OH

Columbus Crew SC hosted Seattle Sounders FC Saturday night in at MAPFRE Stadium in the 2020 MLS Cup Final.

The 2020 final is the third appearance for MLS founding club Columbus, having won the title in 2008.  For Seattle, it is a chance at a repeat, a third title, in their fourth appearance over the past five seasons.

Subplots and history have dominated the conversations in recent days leading into the match. With Seattle at virtually full strength, the late pandemic related suspensions of top Columbus players is likely the subplot that had the most direct chance of affecting the match.

The two clubs have met in a final before, with the Sounders beating the Crew in the 2010 US Open Cup Final in Seattle.  But, the history between the two clubs predates Seattle’s actual first match in MLS in 2009 with the drama over the departure of Sigi Scmid from the Crew to become the MLS Sounders’ first head coach.  Schmid’s passing in 2018 adds an additional somber element as both clubs had great success with him at the helm.  To have been able to have Sigi possibly in attendance at the match would have been a great moment for the clubs, supporters of both, and the league.

Crew coach Caleb Porter was at the helm of Portland Timbers when they defeated Columbus for the cup in 2015 in Columbus.  Porter’s tense relationship with the Sounders through the Cascadia rivalry is apparently now in the past as Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer has commented about them attending licensing courses together.  Supporters may still feel differently.

Columbus looked to close out MAPFRE Stadium on the highest of notes.  A win would end their tenure in what has been possibly the most important building in US soccer history.  Without the stadium, the trajectory of MLS would have been a different story as it proved the proper sized soccer specific stadium was essential to the league not merely surviving but thriving.  With the numerous important matches played in the stadium, it is not hyperbole to state its importance.

The opening half was mostly Columbus on their front foot.  Seattle keeper Stefan Frei was called on a number of times early, coming up big and keeping the match level.  The Crew managed to put Seattle on the chase, creating chances, and only facing the counter on a handful of occasions. Seattle’s counter did get Jordan Morris forward down the left flank a few times, but the crosses didn’t lead to real chances on goal.

The constant pressure would pay off for the Crew.  The initial goal would come mid-half.  Lucas Zelarayán got a foot on a far post cross in the 25th minute and the home side was rewarded with a deserved goal and lead.

Derrick Etienne would make it two nil in the 31st.  The Crew was really rolling at this point, dominating in possession and attack. Seattle needed to get their footing and press back to attempt to cut into the lead by the half, but were unable to.  Heading into the interval the two goal margin was reflective of the way in which Columbus had controlled the match.

Seattle did not wait to make changes after the interval.  Two changes and some urgency put Seattle in position to cut into the lead early in the second half. The early second half suddenly seemed to find Seattle able to get and do something with possession. 

But, the change in game flow did not change the score line in the first part of the second half.  Columbus weathered the storm in the early going, and despite the numerous Seattle chances, the half progressed with the same two goal margin.  The Sounders had definitely found their footing in the match after the half, however, the goals remained elusive.

Given recent history and Seattle’s ability to score in short bursts, the notion that they could come back to bring it level was hardly out of the question. Seattle came close to scoring on a number of set pieces and sequences adding drama to the proceedings. 

Lucas Zelarayán put an end to the come back storyline for Seattle. His left foot drive from the top of the box beat Frei in the 82nd minute and it was just a matter of playing out the match for Columbus to host the title for the second time. 

Columbus had dominated the early going, but had also managed to finish.  The long run of Seattle pressure in the second half had not paid off with goals. 

Columbus is the 2020 MLS Cup champion, closing out the MAPFRE Stadium era with as much style as it deserved.

MLS Western Conference Final in Seattle vs Minn Utd

(Duplicate post of ProstAmerika article as is normal practice for when covering Sounders FC)

Seattle Sounders FC 3
Minnesota United FC 2
MLS Playoffs Western Conference Final
December 7, 2020
Seattle, WA – Lumen Field

Seattle Sounders FC hosted FC Minnesota United FC in the MLS Playoffs Western Conference Final Monday evening. At stake, an opportunity for a spot in the MLS Cup Final against Columbus in Ohio on Saturday December 12.

Due to the unique scheduling necessary this season, it was the first meeting of the two sides in 2020. The last previous meeting being a 1-0 Seattle victory on Decision Day over a year ago at the end of the 2019 season. Seattle was 5-0-1 against the Loons going into the match, with this being the first postseason match between the two clubs.

For the visitors, it was a chance to progress to their first final since joining the league in 2017 in just their second postseason appearance.

A win for the home side and would mean a fourth final in five seasons, an opportunity to repeat and defend their 2019 title, and a shot at a third Philip F. Anschutz Trophy.

Neither Western Conference side could host the final with Columbus defeating New England on Sunday.

The match also marked the return of Sounders legend Osvaldo Alonso to Seattle, albeit a different sort of homecoming given the empty stands. Alonso led his side out to what in another time would have been an amazing spectacle.

And Ozzie made his presence felt early with a strong tackle. A brisk overall pace of play on a crisp but clear Seattle December night meant the action went end to end. Seattle looked to exploit Jordan Morris on the left flank with several long runs in the early going. Morris’ deep runs led to several low and dangerous crosses that put pressure on the Minnesota defense throughout the first half.

Raul Ruidiaz was heavily marked on the Seattle attack, fighting off some tight man marking to have any chance at the numerous attempts to target him. He would have to fight for every opening against the tight marking, and that would come back later to haunt him

The visitors did more than absorb and counter in the first third of the match, but definitely were willing to push the Sounders back line with through balls and their speed.

And then Minnesota broke through in the 29th with a goal on a long set piece by Emanuel Reynoso. Reynoso’s shot over the Seattle wall dipped to Frei’s left and into the goal for the lead. With the Minnesota defense holding off the Seattle crossing attack, the visitors took a one nil lead into the interval.

Seattle looked like it had leveled early on in the second half on a 53rd minute goal from Ruidiaz. Minnesota argued that he had fouled to break free, and the goal was reversed on VAR. Seattle continued to press, but the team defense United played in their own defensive third was a pretty tough nut to crack. The Sounders could get the ball in, but the numbers were very often against them with the commitment Minnesota showed to covering lanes and blocking through balls and shots. The final stats reflecting the team defense in that they blocked 12 Seattle shots throughout the match.

A second set piece goal from the Loons in the 67th minute put the defending champs on their heels. Bakaye Dibassy got his head on the Reynoso service and suddenly it looked like Minnesota was a team of destiny.

Will Bruin came on following the second United goal. Within minutes he had halved the Minnesota lead, slotting a right foot shot home after a deflection. The final 15 minutes suddenly looked more interesting again.

Seattle pleaded for another VAR review minutes after cutting the lead when it appeared Christian Roldan was possibly fouled near the top of the box, but their pleas led to nothing.

Somehow the Sounders got it done. Seattle drew level in the 89th minute. Ruidiaz somehow found himself unmarked on the far post off of a Lodeiro corner and his right footed shot a minute prior to stoppage time meant extra time was on the menu. The wild momentum swings throughout the second half were not done.

Seattle found a third and the winner in the 3rd minute of stoppage. Gustav Svensson headed in to the far post off of another Lodeiro corner and the comeback was complete.

The storyline somehow had completely changed in a matter of minutes. Where Seattle’s run to another final looked over and Minnesota looked ready to ascend to their first, suddenly it was the Sounders celebrating in the center of the pitch. It is hard not to view this match mostly in terms of the final minutes and the comeback/letdown of the 89th minute equalizer and stoppage time goal. In the end, that is the story and what will be remembered.

Minnesota had played a smart match for the bulk of the 90 minutes, frustrating the Sounders offense throughout with tight marking, clogging their lanes, and getting in front of shot after shot. One man is left unmarked in the 89th minute and a late substitute gets to a corner in stoppage time and the conversation shifts to what might have been.

Minnesota has built a solid side in just a few short seasons, getting to the playoffs now a couple years running and to the MLS is Back semifinals this summer. To be in this position as such a young franchise is something noteworthy. It will be an interesting storyline in 2021 to see how the club reacts to the lingering taste of being so close only to lose so dramatically.

Seattle now heads to Ohio with a chance to add another banner to the rafters of Lumen Field. For Brian Schmetzer and his club, it is a fourth final in five seasons and another shot at glory on Saturday.

Kicker photo by Jeff Lageson

MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semifinal in Seattle vs FC Dallas

(Duplicate post of ProstAmerika article as is normal practice for when covering Sounders FC)

Seattle Sounders FC 1

FC Dallas 0

MLS Playoffs Western Conference Semifinal

December 1, 2020

Seattle, WA – Lumen Field

Seattle Sounders FC hosted FC Dallas in the MLS PLayoffs Western Conference Semifinals Tuesday evening. At stake, an opportunity to play the winner of the Thursday evening match between Sporting Kansas City and Minnesota United for a spot in the MLS Cup Final.

Due to the unique scheduling necessary for the pandemic altered season, it was the first meeting of the two sides in 2020. The last previous meeting being a 4-3 extra time playoff match over a year ago in October 2019.

Any questions as to whether it would be a match of Seattle pressing and Dallas hanging back to absorb were put to rest in the early going as both sides pushed in the early going for a quick goal. The early end to end action did not produce an immediate goal, but it did set the tone for the match tempo. Despite the quick pace, neither side had many clear chances on goal in the early going. Much of this was a product of both sides matching the other with energy, and the rest from consistent physical play.

The matching commitment carried through to the interval. Despite each side managing a few opportunities, neither was able to break down the other. The goal free first half was not without drama, as the hosts called for a VAR review of a deflection off of a Dallas defender that was waved off. Dallas made it difficult for the Seattle defense to easily play the ball back out of its own defensive third. A half in which neither side records a shot on goal would seem uninteresting, but this not the case.

Shane O’Neill came through for Sounders FC early in the second half, converting a header off of a Lodeiro corner to break the stalemate. For O’Neill, it was a rare goal, having not scored in six years. The assist from Lodeiro was a league record sixth consecutive playoff match with an assist. Afterwards, O’Neill reflected on the import of the set piece in a match with so few opportunities on goal. “They did a really good job, if we’re being honest, it was a tight affair. So I think it was frustrating, but it was just one of those days where we just had to stay solid and keep believing in our defensive abilities and I think honestly I think that’s the thing I’m most happy with after tonight.”

A few minutes later, when substitute Michael Barrios hit the woodwork, the visitors had their chance to level come achingly close and Seattle had evaded giving up the quick equalizer.

“We were better on one play, a set piece we worked on in training. That’s the storyline really.” Brian Schmetzer remarked after the match. A hard fought match that turned on a single set piece in a single elimination format would be enough. The O’Neill header was one of only two of Seattle’s fourteen shots to be on goal against the Dallas defense.

The loss ends the 2020 season for FC Dallas.

The Sounders now have the chance to advance to the MLS Cup Final for the fourth time in five seasons after notching their 14th consecutive home playoff win.

Seattle moves on to face the winner of Thursday’s other conference semifinal on Monday December 7. Should Sporting win, the match is in Kansas City, if Minnesota, then Seattle gets to remain at home for at least one more match.

Photo by Jeff Lageson