The Seattle Sounders are one win away from qualifying for their fourth MLS Cup in five years. It’s an accomplishment that no team has managed since the halcyon days of D.C. United in the earliest years of MLS. But before we can start talking history, the Sounders need to get past Minnesota United, a team they’ve yet to play this year.
Let the underdogs lie
Everyone seems to agree that the Sounders are the well-earned favorites in this matchup. They’re playing at home, they’re the defending champions, and they’ve got the talent advantage at virtually every position. Manufactured as it may be, Minnesota seems to thrive on being underestimated. The longer the Sounders leave the Loons in the match, the more you have to like their chances. While it’s true that the Sounders are 6-2-3 this year when going into halftime tied, they’re 12-0-1 record when they score first illustrates how much better they are when they can start strong.
Can the Reynoso-Molino connection stay hot?
As good as the Holy Trinity of Sounders attackers has been, the hottest duo in the MLS playoffs has been Emanuel Reynoso and Kevin Molino. Reynoso has six — yes 6!!! — assists in two games, becoming the first player to ever record three assists in consecutive matches. Meanwhile, Kevin Molino leads all scorers with four goals, which come on the heels of a nine-goal, four-assist regular season. Job No. 1 for the Sounders has to be slowing them down.
Don’t let Honey Badger settle in
At 35 years old, Alonso is no longer the one-man defensive shield he once was. But Adrian Heath hasn’t really asked him to be, either. No, Alonso’s job is much more simplified now, effectively serving as Minnesota’s midfield metronome while Jan Gregus does most of the running. The Sounders will need to find a way to keep Alonso moving and not give him the time and space he thrives on.
Who starts at centerback?
Over the course of the season, Shane O’Neill and Xavier Arreaga have split their starts almost exactly down the middle. Arreaga has mostly been the starter when he’s been available, and the Sounders have generally been better when he’s in there. In fact, Arreaga leads all of MLS in both +/- per 90 minutes (1.65) and Expected Goal-Difference per 90 minutes (1.31), according to Stats Bomb. On the other hand, O’Neill has started each of the two previous playoff games and has generally faced tougher competition. The Sounders should be favored no matter who gets the start, but the choice will be an interesting one.
Keep the streaks alive
The Sounders have won seven straight playoff games overall and a rather amazing 14 straight at home. The 14-game postseason winning streak is a MLS record and the seven straight overall wins represents the longest such streak since the league stopped using shootouts after the 1998 playoffs. Fans or not, sleeping in your own bed, not having to get on a plane, and playing in a familiar environment appear to pay dividends.
There’s also the streak against Minnesota United and Adrian Heath to keep in mind. The Sounders have never lost to either, going 7-0-1 against Heath and 5-0-1 against United.