One of the things that stuck out even more as I watch the replay on FSC just now was how during run-of-play (rather than on counters) the team in black played so compact. It was a combination of a fairly high-line with very soft forward defense.
There were times that the distance between Steven Lenhart and Chad Marshall was maybe 15 yards. There were still midfielders and GBS scattered in-between as well. Robert Warzycha did this while having his Forwards put very light pressure on Patrick Ianni and Jeff Parke as they knocked the ball along the backline like Barcelona during a pre-season friendly v. an MLS side.
The compact nature of the Crew defense did mean that the Seattle Sounders did struggle with advancing the ball during run-of-play situations by conventional means. The "ideal" pass of about 10-15 yards on diagonal was hard to find, and there were a lot of midfield turnovers due to the defense.
It also allowed Seattle to patiently probe while its attacking players interchanged and searched for mismatches. None of the attacking players of Seattle stayed in an assumed position for long. Blaise Nkufo showed up on either wing, and as a midfielder. Even Nathan Sturgis entered the switch coming up at times into forward positions, both as a feint and as a pivot.
With Seattle having its two best long crossers on the pitch (James Riley and Tyson Wahl) this meant that the overhead diagonal was a method used to break the Crew's shape. Wahl sent the ball from the left centerline out to the right elbow on multiple occasions, connecting with Sanna Nyassi, Fredy Montery, Nkufo and even Steve Zakuani. The mirror happened from the right as well, with Zakuani getting the ball the most on the left so that he could abuse Frankie Hejduk.
When the long ball beat the Crew it meant that every member of the Columbus side was running back to their own goal, and faced danger from a drop back pass (Montero's best opportunities came on these, somewhat including the one that went off Blaise' face).
While there are advantages to the compact high-line with soft forward defense, particularly in its ability to shut down straight passing, it has disadvantages. Seattle did well trying to bring the ball forward with conventional short-passing, but rather than too often forcing the issue with the ball-on-ground technique instead looked for other ways to break the defense.
The variant on bunker-and-counter that Warzycha's Crew used was one that had some success against Seattle last season, but it would seem that they learned from those struggles, and found new ways to pressure the opposition 5:1 On Goal advantage. Sigi's team didn't fall into just a case of counter back (though that worked well too), but instead has adapted and become a more complete team for it.
Notable as well from a tactical sense: Nkufo had moments in run-of-play playing every role by Center Back and Keeper. On set-plays the big man also used his strong body as a traditional CB. While his numbers were quiet, his defensive game was as strong as any attacking player to wear the Rave Green these past two seasons.