SEATTLE — The 2020 MLS season has been a year of seeing familiar faces, with Covid-19 forcing teams to play a limited number of opponents. So it’s fitting in a way that in the last match before a potential meeting with the Columbus Crew — a team with which the Sounders share some notable history — the Sounders would be pitted against the most familiar face of them all.
Ozzie Alonso’s hall of fame history with the Sounders needs more than talking points, but in what has the potential to be his last action in a MLS uniform (though a return next year is hardly out of the question), it would be remiss not to mention his contribution to the league generally, and the Sounders in particular.
He’s no longer at his peak and has had injury issues over the years, but he’s consistently showed up on when the stakes are highest. And so he was — one more time — tasked this time to help stop the team from reaching a fourth MLS Cup in five years.
For the Sounders’ part, they had long since embraced the role of favorites, and the home side showed up to Lumen field expecting to win. When the pressure bears down and the lights shine brightest, they’re the Seattle Freaking Sounders, and at home — in the playoffs — they win.
And with the seconds ticking down, with the score tied, when just about every Sounders fan would have been satisfied with 30 additional minutes of soccer, they provided everyone with the most exhilarating, dramatic finishes in MLS playoff history.
When the “Schmetzer Time” phrase was “invented” by the fine folks at Fox Sports, it was met with a fairly incredulous reaction — it didn’t actually mean anything and seemed more like pundits trying to make “fetch” happen. Two weeks on and though it may pain Sounders fans to admit it, perhaps the Fox crew was onto something. The Sounders in their history have had a penchant for late-game heroics — something Minnesota United know all too well. But on this night, the Sounders provided the Loons with another one. After the game, coach Brian Schmetzer summarized what being the coach of a veteran team with championship experience means: “Big games, those guys have been there before they know what it takes. All the teams have made it MLS Cup that I’ve coached, they all have that certain something. We’ve had it [for] all our championship teams.” Maybe that “certain something” is Schmetzer Time.
It truly is unfair to call players with the the qualities of Will Bruin, Brad Smith, Gustav Svensson and Kelvin Leerdam “substitutes” in the commonly understood sporting vernacular. Svensson is a multi-capped international player with Sweden who played in the knockout stages of the 2018 World Cup, while Bruin, Leerdam and Smith are effective, experienced players who would surely start on numerous MLS sides. In fact, Leerdam has been a starter for most of this year and Smith started for last year’s MLS Cup winner.
So when the Sounders went down 2-0 in the 67the minute, the firepower available on the bench for Schmetzer meant there was always a chance. Bruin and Ruidiaz in particular have formed an effective partnership in their limited time on the field (again, ask Minnesota about that), and on a night when the Sounders needed a spark, it was Ruidiaz and Bruin working together to get the them back in the game. In the 75th minute, Bruin opportunistically pounced on a deflected Ruidiaz shot to provide a glimmer of hope. Ruidiaz grabbed the equalizer in the 88th minute, cleaning up a loose ball that Bruin helped create from a corner kick.
But it was Svensson who grabbed the glory. The only reasons he wasn’t starting was that he’d missed the past month, first with international absence and more recently after testing positive for Covid-19. Going out of the playoffs while sitting on the bench for most of the game would have been truly disappointing end. But with extra time looming, Svensson once again beat his marker to send the Sounders back to the MLS Cup.
The set-piece gods giveth and taketh. One area where the Sounders have sometimes shown weakness is on set-piece defending. Schmetzer after the game said it’s something they’ll continue to have to work on. That said, he also gave some credit to Minnesota for their execution. The curling free kick from Emanuel Reynoso was well taken and it’s debatable whether Frei could have done much more about it. There might be more of a debate on the goal by Bakaye Dibassy, but he did well to beat Nouhou on a perfectly-placed free kick from Reynoso.
Luckily for the Sounders, they’ve also been pretty good on taking set-pieces themselves. Ruidiaz’s goal off a corner was not exactly drawn up that way, but was just as effective. Svensson’s goal was a bit more clinical, as he redirected Lodeiro’s corner inside the far post. Four of the Sounders’ seven postseason goals have now come off corners.
One for the ages
Variety, the saying goes, is the spice of life. The Sounders have certainly provided that in abundance during the 2020 MLS Cup playoffs. Starting off with a clinical dispatching of LAFC in the Western Conference quarterfinals, the Sounders then had to grind out a 1-0 victory over a stubborn FC Dallas side. Monday night provided something else entirely: a frantic race to overturn a shock two-goal deficit that threatened to knock out the veteran side in their prime on their home turf.
After the game, Schmetzer called the victory “one for the ages,” and lamented the fact that the fans were unable to be in attendance — “I wish I was there [in the Brougham End] watching the game,” Schmetzer said. Unfortunately, the Sounders weren’t able to celebrate the victory in front of the faithful, but as was customary they lined up for the postgame tribute to the supporters section. If they’re fortunate enough to lift a third MLS Cup, perhaps they can lift the trophy in front of them soon.
The win allowed the Sounders to run their overall playoff winning streak to eight games and they’ll close to home part of 2020 riding a 15-game home winning streak in the playoffs. They’ll surely be talking about this one for years to come.