The Seattle Sounders stood on the precipice of history, poised to become one of only a handful of teams to win back-to-back MLS Cups. A win would have given them three MLS Cup titles, third most in MLS history behind D.C. United with four and LA Galaxy with five titles.
Instead, the Sounders crumbled in the face of a rampaging Columbus Crew. The Crew took a 3-0 victory in front of an unsettlingly large crowd of 1,500 at MAPFRE Stadium.
Brian Schmetzer’s side were trailing 2-0 before halftime, leading to a double-sub to start the second half as he tried to work his team back into the game. While the Sounders looked better in the second half and created plenty of chances, their poor finishing did them no favors and Columbus’ star No. 10, Lucas Zelarayan, called game with a blast into the top corner in the 82nd minute to give his team the 3-0 lead and guarantee their victory. Zelarayan finished the night with two goals and an assist.
The game was hugely frustrating, from start to finish, as no one seemed to have a strong performance. Maybe this game was, as we approach the end of a year that has consistently pushed each and every one of us to our limits and beyond in so many ways, one more reminder that nothing is guaranteed. All of the good that we experience in life comes intrinsically tied with pain and hardships, and that is no different in sports. The good news is that no pain, no suffering lasts forever. So this game has ended, marking the beginning of another Sounders offseason, full of hope and possibility for what the next season will bring. Maybe another chance at that third MLS Cup title? Only time will tell.
17’ — Frei stonewalls a shot from close range from Zardes off of a corner, then the follow-up attempt is blocked by Jones to deny a Columbus opener.
25’ — Zelarayan gets on the end of a cross and beats Frei at the near post to take the lead. 1-0
31’ — Etienne hits a bending shot across the goal from the left and finds the far side netting to double the lead. 2-0
48’ — Cristian Roldan takes a shot from outside of the box, forcing Room to make a diving save to keep it out.
64’ — Smith intervenes as Columbus get numbers in the box, stealing the ball away and clearing it for a throw to surely prevent another goal.
82’ — Zelarayan once again finds the back of the net, this time from the top of the box after Diaz beats Smith in the corner. 3-0
Hand’s not hot: Throughout the playoffs Brian Schmetzer rode the “hot hand” and seemed to be justified in doing so. Players like Alex Roldan, Shane O’Neill and Joevin Jones who initially found themselves in the starting lineup due to international duty or injury continued to start as Schmetzer opted not to change a winning lineup. All three players struggled, maybe none more than Jones who’s lack of defensive cover or support on the right side contributed to both first-half goals, and eventually got the hook as the Sounders tried to climb out of a 2-0 hole. The subs weren’t enough to get a win, but they clearly improved the play from Seattle when they entered the game.
Positional problems: Speaking of the hot hand, the fact that the team was getting results covered up some struggles and in the short term served to answer some clear positional questions. With Gustav Svensson unavailable, the best option alongside João Paulo was Cristian Roldan, meaning that the best choice at right mid was Jones. Roldan had his struggles in the center, but was one of the few occasional bright spots, while Jones had an objectively bad game on both sides of the ball. Moving Roldan to the wing with the introduction of Svensson led to a lot of what went well in the second half. Similarly, Xavier Arreaga’s absence meant that Shane O’Neill continued to start at centerback, and while he wasn’t the reason for the deficit, he made the jobs of the players around him more difficult. With a strange and uncertain offseason ahead of them, the Sounders absolutely have to find at the bare minimum improved depth options on the wing and at CB. It’s simply not good enough for Roldan to be your best option at both center mid and right wing.
Weird season, weird game: Maybe it’s fitting that in 2020 a Sounders team that at times seemed like the best squad in franchise history, and potentially the best team in the league, looked like a shadow of themselves. The problems didn’t come out of nowhere, we’ve seen them struggle in similar ways this season, but we’ve come to expect the Sounders to show up in big ways in the most important games. In the most important game of the season, they looked sluggish, disjointed, sloppy, and in some instances disinterested. I don’t think there’s really anything to be gleaned from this one, so as with the year itself, let’s just be grateful for the good that we did get and be glad that the 2020 season is over.
Did you see that?!?
Probably the best moment for the Sounders all night. Frei may have used up all of his magic on this one, though.
He said what?!?
Schmetzer: "I absolutely think this game was a failure. It wasn't up to the standard for ourselves, not up to my standard. It's my job to make sure they have tools to be successful."— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) December 13, 2020
One stat to tell the tale
5 — Seattle took a total of 5 shots from inside or on the edge of Columbus’ penalty area, with all of them coming in the second half. In contrast, Columbus took 13 shots from inside Seattle’s penalty area.
Man of the match
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Yeimar Gómez Andrade