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MLS Cup Final Preview: Seattle Sounders at Columbus Crew SC

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The Sounders try to make history by becoming just the fourth team in league history to win back-to-back MLS Cups.

MLS: MLS Cup-Practice Columbus Dispatch-USA TODAY NETWORK

TORONTO, Canada—Two teams looking to add another Philip F. Anschutz Trophy to their trophy cases will meet in the 2020 MLS Cup when Columbus Crew SC take on Seattle Sounders FC at Mapfre Stadium Saturday evening.

Seattle (11-6-5), the defending MLS Cup Champions, are back in the MLS Cup Final for the fourth time in five years, however, this time around has a little bit of a different ring to it.

“Yes, it’s miles different,” answered Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer during his pre-match media availability. “Number one, we’re not playing Toronto. Number two, obviously the COVID situation in this country certainly has thrown everyday Americans for a loop...”

For the first time in four trips, Seattle will take on an opponent in the Final not named Toronto FC. The Reds, of course, bowed out of the competition thanks to an opening-round extra-time defeat at the hands of expansion side Nashville SC.

19 players of Seattle’s 2019 MLS Cup-winning squad are back with the team in 2020, twelve of whom appeared in the championship—10 of the 11 starters in Stefan Frei, Kelvin Leerdam, Roman Torres, Brad Smith, Joevin Jones, Gustav Svensson, Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan and Raul Ruidiaz, along with substitutes Jordy Delem and Xavier Arreaga.

While experience will be on their side, Seattle, who managed to book their trip back to the final following a thrilling come-from-behind win over Minnesota in the conference final, know they can’t take Tim Bezbatchenko’s Crew lightly, despite the fact Columbus will be missing two key starters in Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos.

Both players were placed on the ‘not medically cleared to play’ list after the Crew announced Thursday evening that they were hit with positive COVID-19 cases.

“Soccer is a team sport,” said Schmetzer. “Those are two super talented players. Caleb (Porter) is going to put two other talented players on the field in their place. He still has the advantage of being at home.”

Columbus (12-5-6) is making their third trip to the MLS Cup Final, having won once in 2008. The last time they reached the MLS title game was back in 2015—a 2-1 loss to the Portland Timbers. Seattle and Columbus did square off earlier this year—pre-pandemic—on Mar. 7: a 1-1 draw at CenturyLink Field. On that day, a 79th minute Raul Ruidiaz penalty salvaged a point for the Sounders.

Saturday will mark the first time that these two teams will meet in the postseason, and this time around, Columbus will have home-field advantage, which should bring music to their ears. Crew SC posted an impressive 9-1-0 record during the regular season at Mapfre Stadium, the second-best home record in MLS this season. In their 10 regular-season games at home, they conceded just six times! Crew SC has also won all three of their home games in the MLS Cup Playoffs this season, defeating the New York Red Bulls 3-2 in Round One, Nashville SC 2-0 in extra time in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, and the New England Revolution 1-0 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

We’ll see if their strong run of play at home holds true and perhaps makes the difference.

In addition to the battle on the field, the tactical duel should also have die-hard footy fans on the edge of their seat. Sounders coach Schmetzer and Crew manager Porter boast two of the best postseason coaching resumes in MLS, and are most notably among the top-three coaches with the best career winning percentage all-time in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Schmetzer is the all-time leader, with a winning percentage of .800 in postseason games, among coaches with at least 10 playoff games experience, while Porter is now third with a .667 winning percentage.

Regardless of Saturday’s winner, one of the teams will add to their MLS Cup legacies. If Columbus is victorious, they will become the seventh team in history to have won multiple MLS Cups. If Sounders FC are triumphant, they will win the MLS Cup for a third time—behind just LA Galaxy (5) and D.C. United (4) for the most league championships in MLS history, moving ahead of Houston Dynamo, Sporting Kansas City and San Jose Earthquakes (all 2 each).

With a win, Sounders FC are also in line to become the fourth team in league history to win back-to-back titles, after D.C. United (1996-97), Houston Dynamo (2005-06) and LA Galaxy (2011-12).

And for those interested in the threads: Both teams will be wearing their primary home uniforms. Columbus Crew SC will be in their all-black first strip, while Seattle Sounders FC will be in their primary uniform of green shirts with blue shorts.

For more information and coverage regarding the MLS Cup Final, check out here.

So who do you got pulling this one off? Anyone but Seattle?


HOW TO WATCH

Who: Seattle Sounders at Columbus Crew SC
When: Sat. Dec. 12 @ 8:30 p.m. EST
TV: TSN 1/4