Stefan Frei MLS CUp 2020-12-13
USA Today Sports

Seattle Sounders rue ‘squandered opportunity’ to repeat as MLS Cup champions, prepared to make amends

Seattle Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer did not mince words following a 3-0 loss to Columbus Crew SC on Monday in MLS Cup.

“I absolutely think that this game was a failure,” Schmetzer said. “This individual game was not a good performance by our club, not up to the standard that we set for ourselves, that I set for myself.”

Seattle found itself down 2-0 just after the half-hour mark of the opening half, one in which the team admitted it never really found its footing. Columbus, playing at home, came out and stifled the Sounders on both sides of the ball and constantly put them under pressure.

“That was one of our worst halves of the season at the worst time for us,” said goalkeeper Stefan Frei. “It took us a long time to find a way into the game.”

Added Schmetzer: “It was almost like [our players] were too wound up, too tight. They just couldn’t seem to find their rhythm early in the game. You go one goal down, that’s O.K., but going two goals down certainly was a dagger. That was something you have to give credit to Columbus.”

Contrary to the Sounders’ miraculous 3-2 win over Minnesota United in the Western Conference Final, a match where they trailed by two with just 15 minutes remaining, Seattle couldn’t find the same control of the game that propelled it to victory last week. The Sounders had trouble getting the ball to their impact players, an issue that prevented the club from reaching its usually high standard.

“It’s a massive squandered opportunity for us,” said Frei. “On one side, you’re not sitting here now saying we should have won because we definitely shouldn’t have won. On the other side you wish we would have played up to our potential or at least somewhat close to it because it’s a massive opportunity to go back-to-back, which happens very, very rarely.”

The entire Major League Soccer season, like the year itself, was a challenging one. From multiple stoppages in play to playing in a bubble in Orlando to incessant COVID-19 testing and travel restrictions, the fact that the league even made it to the finish line is impressive. While the Sounders won’t be happy with the result of Monday’s final, they do understand the magnitude of what it took to get back to MLS Cup for the second year in a row, and the fourth time in five years, in such difficult circumstances.

“I’m very proud of the season that my squad put together,” said Schmetzer. “They worked hard, the fought until the end, but they came up short tonight. In the long run, in the bigger picture, there is a lot of success that follows this franchise, and we hope to continue that.”

The Sounders have now split their four MLS Cup appearances. This one will sting, much like their previous chance to repeat as champions in 2017, when they fell 2-0 at Toronto FC in a rematch of the title game a year before.

But like 2017, Seattle will try and utilize this year’s match as both motivation and a learning experience to come back stronger and lift another trophy.

“After the Cup final in 2017, we learned some things,” said Schmetzer. “Last year, we learned some things. I’ll learn some things after this, after we reflect on this season and this playoff run and this final. Then we’ll try and push the group forward.”

Said Frei: “You always want to reflect and correct mistakes, whether it’s actual situational things that we could have done better or attitude in games. You want to see if there’s something we could pick up and maybe use to be more successful in the future.”

For now, though, the team will rightfully take some time off to recuperate physically and mentally. With a global pandemic and social justice issues still very much prevalent, this turbulent campaign has been draining for everyone.

Frei is looking forward to spending time with his family and recharging his batteries, but he also wants to keep perspective in the offseason on the world around him.

“I find it trivial, and I’m a bit embarrassed to talk about how disappointed I am in not winning a trophy,” said Frei. “There are people who lost their lives this year and people who are still fighting. Let’s not forget about the first responders, the workers, the people who are out in hospitals helping everybody. Thank you for your work.

“Everybody please keep wearing masks because we’re not out of this yet. There’s a little light at the end of the tunnel.”

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