Preview — The MLS is coming to a close after a chaotic, unusual 25th season on Saturday. The MLS Cup Final will feature a familiar face and another club that hasn’t been to the championship in six years. Heading in from the west coast, the Seattle Sounders are looking for a third title in the last four years. Meanwhile, the Columbus Crew SC are looking to make up for their loss in 2015.
As Cristian Roldan said on Thursday’s media availability ahead of the final, “nobody remembers a finalist.”
As mentioned, this isn’t new territory for the Sounders. In the last five years, the Sounders have punched their ticket to four MLS Cup Finals. Roldan quipped that this final is different, for starters, because the Sounders aren’t playing Toronto FC.
Meanwhile, the Crew know that they have a large mountain to climb, facing off with a successful Sounders team. However, it’s not an impossible task. Earlier in 2020, before COVID arrived on the shores of the United States, Columbus took a trip to Washington for the second week of competition. In a 1-1 draw, Gyasi Zardes scored for the Crew, while Raúl Ruidíaz tied it for Seattle.
Zardes, when speaking to the media on Wednesday, said he believes each side is drastically different than when they met in March.
“When we played Seattle at the beginning of the year, it was a crazy day of travel… We stopped in two locations just to make it to Seattle,” Zardes said. “During that game, I know we had a couple opportunities in the first half. That game was a battle. I saw numerous things that we got better at, and I’m sure Seattle got better too. It was a hard fought battle.”
“I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to play against a great team like that.”
All the goals & all the angles from the Western Conference Final! 💯 pic.twitter.com/vtfYwteE8o
— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) December 9, 2020
Sounders and Crew both confident ahead of MLS Cup Final
The Sounders and Crew both had big victories to get them to the Final.
For the Sounders, a huge win against rival LAFC set up the team for a contest against FC Dallas. In a scrappy 1-0 victory, Seattle edged out FC Dallas courtesy of a Shane O’Neill goal. Then, against Minnesota United, the Sounders pulled off an incredible miracle. After going down two goals, the Sounders rallied and scored three unanswered goals from Will Bruin, Ruidíaz and Gustav Svensson.
Roldan said that even though the team went down early, there was confidence that a win was still plausible. He attested the depth of the team to the reason for Seattle’s victory.
“We have a deep squad that can play a part in the game like they did against Minnesota… We have guys on the bench that can be starters on other team,” he said.
Meanwhile, for the Crew, the men in yellow narrowly edged out the New York Red Bulls for the chance to play underdog Nashville SC in the Eastern Conference semifinal. Columbus picked up the win and recorded a clean sheet, all without starting goalkeeper Eloy Room. Then, in the Eastern Conference Final, the Crew edged out the New England Revolution, courtesy of an Artur goal.
The Brazilian midfielder said, while he’s excited to be an Eastern Conference champion, everyone will remember the MLS Cup Final winner.
“In my first year here, we got to the conference final. I couldn’t play the second game,” Artur said. “I always had this expectation to play in the final, be a champion and get the ring.”
“And I want the ring.”
Notable absences for Columbus due to COVID-19
At the beginning of the MLS Cup Playoffs, the Crew had a surge of positive COVID-19 cases. However, even with the Crew bringing back Eloy Room from the unable to play list, they are adding more names to that list — big names.
Darlington Nagble and Pedro Santos — two dynamic players in the midfield for Columbus — are unable to compete in the final, due to either positive COVID-19 tests or exposure, according to Patrick Murphy of Massive Report. The loss of both players could be detrimental to securing a victory over the best team in the West.
Before the news came out, Nicolas Lodeiro complimented the Columbus midfield — and entire roster.
“We know Columbus has very good players in their midfield,” he said. “But, Columbus has a very good team, not just midfielders.”
Meanwhile, Artur called the midfield the battleground area of Saturday’s contest.
“We have to work hard, but we have a very good midfield too, “Artur said. “It’s going to be a battle. I think that’s going to be in the key. Whoever wins in the midfield will have an advantage, I think we’ll be ready for them.”
𝙏𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙞𝙨𝙣'𝙩 𝙖 𝘾𝙞𝙣𝙙𝙚𝙧𝙚𝙡𝙡𝙖 𝙨𝙩𝙤𝙧𝙮. pic.twitter.com/DjMbPympl4
— The Crew (@ColumbusCrew) December 11, 2020
Prediction and Last Words on Seattle Sounders vs. Columbus Crew
Losing out on Nagbe and Santos is going to hurt the Crew, there’s no doubt about that.
However, Columbus, just like Seattle, has a ton of depth. If the Sounders win, there is going to be talk of how they had an advantage. This is untrue in a few ways — MLS could have had a bubble, like they did at MLS is Back, solely for the playoff teams. Also, COVID outbreaks are bound to occur. Obviously, there are no details to how Santos and Nagbe came into contact, but this is. the team that had an outbreak before the Nashville match.
If the Crew win, it will be heralded as a major victory, overcoming a lot of odds. Plus, they will do it at home, at the great MAPFRE Stadium, the first original soccer-specific stadium in the United States.
However, I don’t predict that outcome.
I predict that the Seattle Sounders FC will win the MLS Cup title, 2-0, over the Crew. Seattle has experimented with their defensive starting lineup, but I believe head coach Brian Schmetzer will roll out his players that have been here before and know how to win.
Seattle and Columbus are deserving of their spot in the final. However, there is just something different about the playoff Seattle Sounders.