The fourth MLS Cup final in five years has finally arrived for the Seattle Sounders. They’ll take on the Columbus Crew in Columbus. But, you already knew that. I talked with Patrick Murphy from Massive Report to get the Crew perspective ahead of the match.
Sounder at Heart: The biggest news out of this week is that Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos won’t be medically cleared to play on Saturday. How big of a blow to Columbus is that and who will replace those players?
Massive Report: When I talked to someone within the Crew team after the news came out on Thursday night, the answer I got back to this question was “devastating.” With that said, this is a team that has faced adversity (frankly all teams have) all year and found a way to make it to the MLS Cup Final.
I would say Nagbe is the biggest loss because of how much he controls the team in the center of the park. Seattle fans are obviously familiar with him from his time in Portland and I think he’s only gotten better since then. The guy completed nearly 95 percent of his passes on the season. He’s just such a smart, controlled player in possession, while also helping the team remain organized defensively.
Santos’ absence is in a similar vein. While he’s not at the heart of the team, he is still a big part of the build-up and chance creation. He is also an underrated defensive player on the wings, helping out wherever he can. He has two goals thus far in the playoffs, including a game-winner.
There’s no doubt the Crew will miss these two.
SAH: Lucas Zelarayán is a fantastic #10 who reminds me a lot of our very own Nicolas Lodeiro. What’s the key to shutting down Zelerayán?
MR: That’s a good question and one the Sounders are going to have to figure out if they are to be successful in this game. Zelarayán finds a way to get on the ball and be in dangerous positions; that’s why Columbus paid a team-record fee for him. Even when teams focus on shutting him down, he will pop up in dangerous situations. Like you mentioned, he is similar to Lodeiro.
For Seattle, it will be about limiting those opportunities. With Nagbe and Santos out, Zelarayán becomes an even bigger focal point in the offense. He will have to be all over the attacking areas of the field and be the primary chance creator. It’s a big ask for his player in his first year in MLS, but one Zelarayán will certainly embrace.
SAH: I was on a podcast with you earlier this week and you predicted a Sounders win. But, here I’ll give you some space to dream and be optimistic. What needs to happen on Saturday night in order for Columbus to lift their second MLS Cup?
MR: I stand by that prediction, and that was before the Nagbe and Santos news, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see an avenue for the Crew winning this game. The Black & Gold proved early in the year that this is a team that can rely on strong defensive play to get a win. If this defensive unit (and the Crew includes all 10 field players in that) can be smart and not allow too many chances for the visitors, it obviously gives Columbus a chance. We’ve seen in MLS Cup Finals of the past, it can be one chance, one mistake, that makes a difference.
I think the first goal in this game is going to be huge. That’s normally the truth in soccer games, but even more in this one. Both teams have the capability to play with a lead, and while this certainly won’t decide the game, it could dictate how the contest is played, especially if the Black & Gold can find the net early.