The Seattle Sounders came in to Columbus with talk cementing their status of a MLS dynasty with a victory in MLS Cup. They left dispirited and empty handed and the only talk will be about how they let the opportunity slip away.
After a well-deserved 3-0 defeat to the Columbus Crew, the dethroned champions will have plenty of time to consider their legacy in the context of their history in MLS. Four championship appearances in five years surely puts the Sounders in the top tier of MLS clubs, even considering their relative short tenure in the league. That’s hardly consolation in the aftermath of what Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei called one of the worst performances, particularly in the first 45 minutes.
The loss leaves the Sounders 2-2 in the big game, and the offseason starts in earnest Sunday, when they’ll have to make the hard decisions on who will return to make another run at the title. That includes coach Brian Schmetzer who has been in a very public contract negotiation with the Sounders front office. Schmetzer has a resume that just about any MLS coach would take in an instant, but a 3-0 hiding on the biggest of stages will surely raise questions about his future, even if that may not be deserved.
Jones can’t keep up
Joevin Jones didn’t really provide much from the wing position throughout the playoffs, or for much of the tail-end of the season for that matter. In MLS Cup, Jones was arguably even worse. Frequently turning the ball over in bad spots, Jones was largely anonymous going forward, and provided very little cover on the defensive end to boot. A player with his technical skill and composure on the ball would have seemingly been a perfect fit for the Sounders in this game, but he simply wasn’t up for the game on the day. By halftime, Schmetzer had seen enough, and one wonders if the Sounders front office comes to the same conclusion as they look to reload their roster this offseason.
Schmetzer rides and dies
Schmetzer is famously loyal to his veteran players, and will generally dance with the players that brought him to the party. That said, there were signs that some his dance partners might stand him up. Alex Roldan, who like Jones struggled in his last appearance against Minnesota United, got the start again in the title game. While he was hardly the only one at fault in the first two goals, he was ultimately the one beaten for both tallies, which effectively ended the game. Schmetzer opted to leave Kelvin Leerdam and Gustav Svensson on the bench, though both have been the presumptive starters since they joined the team in 2017. Both players had been dealing with fitness issues in the lead-up to the game, so it’s possible that neither were able to go for 90 minutes, but Schmetzer implied the choice was more about using a consistent lineup.
It’s rare to see a team with nearly 65% of the possession over the course of the game so impotent in attack, but the Sounders — particularly in the first half — were never able to get out of first gear. Some of that may have had to do with an injury suffered by talisman Nicholas Lodiero, who Schmetzer revealed after the game had a strained calf. But that doesn’t fully explain how the Sounders were so thoroughly outplayed by the Crew’s makeshift lineup. Without two of its most influential midfielders — Pedro Santos and Darlington Nagble were out due to positive Covid tests — the Crew inserted an 19-year-old homegrown player who outplayed the Sounders midfield throughout the game. With a lack of service apparent, Raul Ruidiaz and substitute Will Bruin struggled to find the game, living off of what couldn’t even be described as half-chances at goal. And by the time the Sounders started to assert themselves going forward, it was far too late.
Porter gets the last laugh
Stefan Frei said after the game that the Sounders simply weren’t prepared for what Columbus brought to them. The Crew started the game on the front foot pressing their attack and seemingly catching the Sounders off-guard with their aggressive attack. The first 15 minutes saw the repeatedly sending dangerous balls in the Sounders penalty box, racking up corner kicks and free kicks and keeping the Sounders pinned back. With the Sounders unable to muster much in the way of an attack the Crew were able to take advantage with their own number 10 in Lucas Zelarayán, who thoroughly outplayed his counterpart. In the end, Porter through caution to the wind, and got his — and the Crew’s — just reward.