(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