Following a quiet Eastern final meetup on Sunday, in which the Columbus Crew would shutout the New England Revolution one-nil. We would get an engrossing Western final the following night. After goals from Emanuel Reynoso and Bakaye Dibassy in the 29th and 67th minutes respectively. Minnesota United looked to be in a solid position to come out of the West. However, as we have seen with the Seattle Sounders, when down, they can be at their most dangerous. Consider that they have managed to qualify for the MLS Cup Final four out of the last five seasons.
Already 70 minutes in, the Sounders were applying plenty of pressure on the Loons backline. It was in the 75th minute, super-sub Will Bruin would eventually breakthrough for Seattle. Cutting the lead in half. Minnesota would be on its heels from that point on, unable to get the ball out of its own end for those next 14 minutes. The equalizer would come in the 89th minute, with Raul Ruidiaz putting away the goal after a corner kick from Nicolas Lodeiro fell into his lap. And with just a minute left in stoppage, Gustav Svensson, would clinch it for the Sounders, connecting on a brilliant looking header.
It was back at the beginning of March that the Sounders and Crew last met, with the game resulting in a one-all draw. Gyasi Zardes broke open the scoring for the Crew after a superb tic-tac-toe play. However, it wouldn’t be until the 79th minute before Ruidiaz would equalize on a penalty attempt.
So without further ado, let’s breakdown this MLS Cup final. The match will be hosted at MAPFRE Stadium as the Sounders will go on the road to face Columbus. It will all kick off on Saturday at 8:30 PM Eastern time.
It’s been 12 seasons since the Crew last recorded an MLS Cup finals victory, when they beat out the New York Red Bulls to the tune of 3-1. Their manager during that title win, the late Sigi Schmid, would join the expansion Sounders the very next season.
Since pulling himself off the snide against Atlanta United in early November, Zardes has fully cemented himself as the club’s leading forward option. Consider that over his previous three games, Zardes has combined for 14 shots (seven of which would hit the target). He was key in the victory over Nashville, adding the second of two goals in stoppage time. With Pedro Santos now being pulled out of the Columbus starting lineup due to a positive COVID result. Zardes will be relied upon all the more heavily against the Sounders.
While Zardes has been key to Columbus making it here, let not overlook that Crew defensive front. Which has performed like an absolute fortress so far in these playoffs. Consider they have not allowed a goal in either of the previous two matches. The defense is led by 30-year-old Ghanian defender Jonathan Mensah. Mensah would rack up 10 clearances along with an assist in the Eastern final. He was also in the running for MLS defender of the year and would be awarded MLS Best XI in November.
Andrew Tarbell has been as good as you can ask since filling in for Eloy Room. In his pair of starts, Tarbell has knocked aside four shots in each of them. With a couple of days still left to go before they meet up with the Sounders, the choice for starting goalkeeper has not yet been decided.
Projected Starting Lineup
Columbus formation: 4-4-2
It was announced on Friday night that both Santos and Darlington Nagbe will now be out for Saturday’s final due to positive COVID results. Zardes and Fanendo Adi will head the attack for the Crew. Lucas Zelarayan, Artur de Lima Junior, Youness Mokhtar, and Luis Daz Espinoza should cover the midfield. On defense, it will be a trio of Milton Valenzuela, Mensah, Harrison Afful, and Josh Williams. Tarbell is the tentative keeper in net.
Being the defending champion from a season ago. If the Sounders should be able to clinch a win against Columbus, they will join an exclusive club that includes Houston Dynamo, LA Galaxy, and DC United as the only other teams to win back to back MLS Cup titles.
Ruidiaz has played a huge part in their lead up to the finals, having scored a goal in each of the past two playoff matches. In fact, since returning to the starting lineup in late October, he has not let up. Consider he’s racked up three shots in each of the previous four meetings, with six of them hitting the target. With the Columbus defense performing so well as of late, it will most likely take a clutch performer like Ruidiaz to breakdown that Crew foundation.
Among the storylines that occupy the lead up to the final is the award for 2020 U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year. Sounders Jordan Morris and Crew’s Zardes were named along with four other players as finalists. Morris has been relatively quiet over the last pair of games, in which he has not gotten a shot on target in four attempts combined. However, prior to that, Morris had picked up at least a point in each of the previous four games. A strong performance on Saturday night could clinch a few votes for the Seattle native.
A key player from the Western final, Lodeiro is currently on a seven-game point streak. Along with assisting on the game-tying goal against United, he would take each of the Sounders ten corner kicks. Lodeiro should continue to be heavily involved with set-piece attempts.
Projected Starting Lineup
Seattle formation: 4-5-1
Ruidiaz will be the lone forward for Seattle. Morris, Joao Paulo Mior, Cristian Roldan, Lodeiro, and Alex Roldan fill-up the midfield. Yeimar Gomez Andrade, Joevin Jones, Shane ONeill, and Nouhou Tolo get the start on the back end. And getting the responsibility in net for this final will be Stefan Frei.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images