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Beginner’s guide to MLS Cup

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Sounders will play the Columbus Crew at 5:30 PM on Fox.

Seattle Sounders Victory Parade Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Seattle Sounders will visit the Columbus Crew with a chance to become the first back-to-back MLS Cup winners since 2012. It’s their fourth trip the championship game in five years and they’ll be attempting to win it for the third time. That’s the most basic information, but this guide is designed to help you understand it on a slightly deeper level.

When’s kickoff?

Big Fox is broadcasting the match with pregame scheduled to start 5 PM PT, switching to game coverage around 5:30 PM and kickoff likely at 5:41 PM.

Why are the Crew hosting?

Once upon a time MLS had a neutral site championship game like the Super Bowl. Over time, though, it became clear the atmosphere wasn’t really what they were going for, so they started allowing the team with the best regular-season record to host the final. This year, the Crew finished with a slightly better record than the Sounders.

Are fans going to be there?

Yes, despite being in the middle of a global pandemic, there will be about 1,500 people inside the 20,000-seat stadium.

Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of hosting?

Despite playing in front of generally pretty small crowds or in front of an entirely empty stadium, home-field advantage has continued to be a thing in MLS. The Crew, in fact, are 12-1-1 at Mapfre Stadium this year.

Are the Sounders any good on the road?

They weren’t bad, anyway. They went 3-3-3, albeit while never having to travel more than two hours from Seattle. Historically, though, the Sounders have generally been pretty good on the road and they’ve won three of the five cup finals they’ve played at opposition stadiums. They’re also 4-2-1 in Columbus, including a win in their trip there last year.

Have they played the Crew this year?

They have! The Sounders and Crew tied 1-1 back on March 7, the last MLS game played before Covid-19 forced a months-long hiatus. It's hard to take too much from that game, though, as the Sounders were missing Nicolas Lodeiro and it was nine months ago.

How did the teams get here?

The Crew finished third in the Eastern Conference and have gotten a little lucky with the draw, facing no team seeded higher than sixth and have faced progressively lower seeds in each round. They beat the New York Red Bulls 3-2, No. 7 seed Nashville SC 2-0 (in overtime), and No. 8 New England Revolution 1-0.

The Sounders finished second in the West, and benefitted from a few upsets along the way as well. They beat LAFC 3-1 in the first round, No. 6 seed FC Dallas 1-0, and then finished off by beating No. 4 seed Minnesota United 3-2.

Anything notable happen in that game?

Oh yeah, the Sounders were trailing 2-0 and then scored three unanswered goals over the final 20 minutes. The game-winner came in the 94th minute. Here it is in like 20 different languages:

Who are the players I should watch?

Lodeiro is the Sounders’ main playmaker. He was tied for the league lead in assists, has added a few more during the playoffs and is basically the engine that keeps the Sounders moving. He was one of three Sounders to be named MLS Best XI this year, along with Jordan Morris and Raúl Ruidiaz. Morris is a local kid, who grew up on Mercer Island and played for the Sounders Academy. He’s been in the US national team for a few years, but lately has really come into his own. Ruidíaz is the Sounders’ leading scorer and one of the most prolific scorers in playoff history, with nine goals and six assists in just nine games. He’s the player most likely to score a highlight-reel goal.

Got an unsung hero I can love?

There are some really great candidates on this team. Cristian Roldan went to UW and plays like 10 different positions; his brother went to Seattle U and might start at right back; João Paulo is a Brazilian defensive midfielder who is also a good passer; Gustav Svensson’s nickname is Goose, which is a ton of fun to say. But if you want a player you can instantly fall in love with because of the crazy stuff he might do, keep your eye on left back Nouhou. He loves to get up field and has a penchant for making acrobatic plays. He might drive your friends a little crazy, but watching him is infectious.

How about on the Crew?

The Crew are no slouches, either, but it should be said that two of their best players are going to be out after apparently contracting Covid-19. Darlington Nagbe is their star midfielder, while Pedro Santos was their second-leading scorer. Even without them, though, they’ve got some formidable talents. The biggest might be Lucas Zelarayan, a supremely talented playmaker. The other big one is Gyasi Zardes, who has been among the top American scorers for a few years now.

Who coaches these guys?

Brian Schmetzer is the Sounders coach and he’s a bit of a local legend. He grew up here, going to Nathan Hale High School and playing for the NASL Sounders back in the day. He’s played or coached for basically every professional soccer team in Seattle’s history, leading the USL Sounders to a couple league titles before making the move to the MLS team as an assistant. He took over as the MLS head coach in 2016. He led them to a title that year, went back to MLS Cup the next year and this is now his fourth trip after winning at home last year.

The Crew are coached by Caleb Porter. You might remember him as the smarmy guy who coached the Portland Timbers and actually led them to MLS Cup in 2015. He’s a bit more pragmatic now than he was then, but is a formidable opponent either way.

Who’s going to win?

Well, the prediction website FiveThirtyEight has it as a literal toss-up and the Crew opened as betting favorites. But after the announcement that Nagbe and Santos were out, the Sounders’ odds have improved markedly. Still, it’s expected to be a close match.

Ok, anything else to get me ready?

Yes! None other than Sue Bird narrated this video and, well ... chills. (Make sure you turn on the sound.)

I feel like an expert now, what else should I read?

We’ve got so much good stuff, but this should get you set: