Photo via Sports Illustrated
The moment is finally here. After a season that many of us thought was never going to even finish, we have a cup final. It took a lot for us to get to this moment. The COVID-19 pandemic truly changed the way sports were going to be played. Clubs that were used to selling out the stands were going to have to deal with the hallowed grounds and filtered-in audio. We had a tournament in Orlando to get the season back underway only to find underdogs rise and typical MLS overloads see their way out early. We have seen COVID scares and cancelled matches, but through it all we made it. The Seattle Sounders and the Columbus Crew find themselves in the 25th MLS Cup Final. The storylines for this match are so delightful. You have an MLS original club taking on the best expansion side MLS has ever seen. You have two Pacific Northwest native coaches taking on each other. The Crew’s coach was the one that beat them in their last final appearance. These two goliaths have made quite a trek to get to this so let’s take a dive in to each club’s road to the final.
After a disappointing season in the East last year finishing 10th, the Crew came out firing on all cylinders. They were one of the hottest clubs coming into the season and proved that as they came into MLS Cup. They went undefeated in their group stage play and did not allow a single goal in that process. However, it was a quick dismissal in the round of 16 with Minnesota United taking out the yellow and black on penalties. Head coach, Caleb Porter, regrouped his side once the regular season resumed and continued their hot start in the regular season. They were the Supporter’s Shield leaders for a long stretch of the season but proceeded to slip down the standings until they found themselves sitting in fourth. They were able to win a couple more matches to claim third and some home-field advantage. Their first playoff match saw them take on the New York Red Bulls. They overcame a quick goal from NYRB and took the match 3-2. The next match had them take on the new kids on the block, Nashville. The expansion side was hot on their upset over Toronto, but Columbus took care of business and extracted Nashville from MLS Cup contention 1-0. The Eastern Conference Final saw them up against the lowest seed, New England Revolution. It was another tight match, but an Artur goal saw the Crew go to their third cup appearance.
The Sounders started slow like they seem to do every season. They struggled to find their identity after losing key pieces from their cup victory last season in Roman Torres, Brad Smith and Victor Rodriguez. Their MLS is Back Tournament play was not very convincing either. After scraping by in group play, they were quickly removed by LAFC. LAFC was out for blood after the Sounders knocked them out in MLS Western Conference Final last season. Brian Schmetzer was thought to be on the hot seat, but Seattle did what they do best and just started to win again. Their most impressive performance coming in a 7-1 victory at home against the San Jose Earthquakes. Going into the MLS Playoffs, they took the second seed and also got to host home field advantage. They took on LAFC again, this time in round one. They won to a familiar score line as the Seattle big three each tallied a goal, winning 3-1 once again. The next match saw them take on FC Dallas. It took a header from an unlikely source in Shane O’Neill to send the Sounders to their fourth conference final in five years, winning 1-0. Minnesota and Seattle had an absolute classic in the Western Conference Final. The Loons held a 2-0 lead until the 75th minute. The Sounders then put three goals up in 18 minutes to steal the match and sent themselves back to the MLS Cup Final.
History between the clubs
These two clubs played each other once this season. Gyasi Zardes scored in the middle of the first half and Raul Ruidiaz scored a penalty in the second half, resulting in a 1-1 draw. Seattle holds the lead in this matchup as they have won four times against the Crew while Columbus has only beaten Seattle twice with one of those matches being last season.
So who wins it all?
News has released that two vital players for the Crew are out of the Final as both Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos are out due to positive COVID-19 tests. These two clubs are a very strong reflection of each other. The Sounders and the Crew both have a strong striker up top, creative wingers, assertive defense and confident goalkeepers. Columbus will be looking to claim their second title in club history. Seattle are looking to go back-to-back and claim their third MLS cup in five years.
My winner of the MLS Cup 2020 is…. the Seattle Sounders. No, this is not me being biased. Just look at that comeback and tell me this club is not destined to win their third cup. It is rare that you see a team down 2-0 and you still think they are going to win. Seattle did just that. Columbus is a great club but when Seattle starts to get comfortable in possession and finds holes in the defense, they start to punish your goalkeeper. Nagbe being out for Columbus is going to test how strong the Crew backline really is.
Be sure to tune in to Fox Sports 1 at 8pm EST/5pm PST. This will be a fantastic matchup between two clubs who have plenty to prove.