The Seattle Sounders are taking on Columbus Crew SC on Saturday at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, in MLS Cup 2020 (5:30 p.m. PT; FOX, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM). Here are several major storylines and matchups to watch.
The big news out of Columbus ahead of Saturday’s clash is that Crew SC midfielder Darlington Nagbe and winger Pedro Santos are not medically cleared to play. Nagbe has been an integral part of Columbus’ success in his first season with the club. Reunited with former Portland Timbers and Akron Head Coach Caleb Porter, Nagbe reestablished himself as one of the league’s best tempo-setting central midfielders and quarterbacks in Porter’s possession-based attack. Santos, meanwhile, started 22 matches for Crew SC this season, recording six goals and eight assists, as well as scoring the game-winner in extra time against Nashville SC in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The Seattle Sounders and Columbus Crew SC will forever be linked to the late Sigi Schmid, who spent three years in Columbus before taking over the reins of Seattle in its inaugural MLS season. Schmid, who passed away on Dec. 25, 2018, led Crew SC to their lone MLS Cup in 2008 before leading the Sounders to four U.S. Open Cup titles, a Supporters’ Shield and seven consecutive postseason appearances.
THE ‘D’ WORD
Ahead of their fourth MLS Cup appearance in five years, and with the chance to win their third title, there’s been plenty of talk about whether the Seattle Sounders are an MLS dynasty. When asked about his thoughts on it, Head Coach Brian Schmetzer opted for another ‘D’ word and demurred. Still, the Rave Green have a chance on Saturday to become only the fourth team in league history to repeat as MLS Cup champions.
Schmetzer will line up on the touch line on Saturday opposite a familiar face in Porter, who managed Seattle’s rival the Portland Timbers from 2013-17. Schmetzer and Porter have mostly smothered the flames between them now — “I’ve softened in my old age,” Schmetzer quipped — but there is a healthy rivalry and respect fueling both men.
SOUTH AMERICAN PLAYMAKERS
Columbus will need to rely on club-record signing Lucas Zelarayán, a clever Argentine No. 10 acquired this past offseason from Liga MX’s Tigres. Zelarayán earned MLS Newcomer of the Year honors this year despite battling through injury and will need to be even more on top of his game without the presence of Nagbe assisting behind him.
His counterpart is Uruguayan maestro Nicolás Lodeiro, whose arrival in Seattle in 2016 is in large part why the Sounders are even in the dynasty conversation. Lodeiro enters Saturday on the heels of an MLS Best XI season, and his seven consecutive playoff matches with an assist is an MLS record.
RUIDÍAZ VS. MENSAH
Sounders forward Raúl Ruidíaz is the best playoff per-90-minutes goalscorer in MLS history. He has nine goals and six assists in just nine playoff matches, including an 89th-minute equalizer against Minnesota United in the Western Conference Final. The Peruvian was named to MLS Best XI this season and will go head-to-head with another Best XI selection in Columbus center back Jonathan Mensah. The imposing 6-foot-2, 180-pound Ghanaian played every minute for Crew SC this season and anchored the league’s second-best defense.
MORRIS VS. AFFUL
Winger Jordan Morris was the third Sounder to be named to MLS Best XI this year, and he’ll have an exciting battle with Crew SC right back Harrison Afful. The 34-year-old Ghanaian is a FIFA World Cup veteran and one of the most consistent fullbacks in the league. Morris, meanwhile, has continued his fine form and remains one of the worst defensive matchups in MLS because of his pace and ability to create in behind.
YEIMAR VS. ZARDES
Sounders center back Yeimar will have to make sure he knows where Columbus forward Gyasi Zardes is at all times. The U.S. international scored 12 goals and added four assists in 21 matches this year and is the gold standard of off-the-ball movement in the box. He scored in Columbus’ first two postseason matches, including icing the game against Nashville SC. Yeimar has looked right at home on Seattle’s back line in his first season in MLS, starting 19 matches and adding two goals of his own, while leading the Western Conference’s second-best defense.