The coronavirus may not be getting the last laugh this MLS Cup week, but it sure is getting its say.
News that the Columbus Crew have suffered positive Covid-19 tests to two of their most influential players — Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos — rocked the atmosphere in Columbus ahead of Saturday’s MLS Cup matchup between the Seattle Sounders and host Columbus Crew.
Both Nagbe and Santos were expected to start and play large roles in Columbus’ seeking to dethrone the defending champions. Now, their chances — and the enthusiasm for the game — have taken significant hits.
Santos scored the winning goal in the Eastern Conference final, while Nagbe’s importance to the Crew can hardly be understated. “He’s gotten better with age,” said Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer about Nagbe. “He’s transformed himself into one of the best holding midfielders. They play with two back there. His skill set is super technical; [it’s] hard to get the ball off him. He can dribble forward, be dangerous. He’s got good range. He’s aggressive when he defends set pieces.”
As for the game itself, well, the show goes on, with MLS looking to get through this game and put 2020 firmly in the rear view mirror. Even with positive Covid-19 tests surging, the coaches are focused on the task at hand.
“I’m fully confident in the protocols that MLS and, more importantly, our club have done over the course of this very challenging time,” said Schmetzer. “I’m not a doctor. I don’t know all of the details and all of the facts when it relates to Covid transmission. But I personally feel safe.”
Schmetzer said the positive tests and situation on the ground in Columbus generally do not concern him, and will not impact who he plays in the game. Sounders winger Jordan Morris is a type-1 diabetic, but Schmetzer said the homegrown product will feature. “I know Jordan is anxious to play in the game. I fully expect him to be participating in the match.”
With two significant players for the Crew missing, Schmetzer said the Sounders may have more of the ball, but it won’t change the team’s gameplan much, if at all.
“Soccer is a team sport. Those are two super talented players,” Schmetzer said. “Caleb is going to put two other talented players on the field in their place. He still has the advantage of being at home.
“There is nothing that I would prepare differently because we prepared for a very good opponent.”