The Sounders’ playoff magic ran out in Columbus, Ohio, as a flat performance put them on the wrong end of a 3-0 loss to Columbus Crew SC on Saturday evening in the MLS Cup.
Seattle fell behind 2-0 in the first half as Columbus scored twice in the span of six minutes. It would have taken another miraculous comeback like the one they pulled off in the Western Conference finals against Minnesota, but lightning didn’t strike twice for the men in Rave Green.
They managed a few chances in the second half — one of their best chances came in the 73rd minute as Gustav Svensson nearly scored a goal identitical to his match-winner against Minnesota — but Columbus otherwise dominated the match as the Ohio club captured its second MLS Cup.
“I absolutely think this game was a failure,” Sounders FC manager Brian Schmetzer said following the match. “I think this individual game was not a good performance by our club, not up to the standard we set for ourselves, that I set for myself.”
The Sounders avoided some early danger as goalkeeper Stefan Frei turned away a massive early goal-scoring opportunity. A volley from a Columbus player off a corner kick was hit full force, but Frei was able to react at the last second and save the ball with his right arm.
It should have been a wake- up call for Seattle, but the club didn’t pick up the phone in the first half.
“I wish that after we dodged a couple of bullets early on we would have woken up a little bit and would have been able to find our way into the game, but we didn’t, and we got punished,” Frei said.
Instead, the chances kept on coming for Columbus. The Crew finally converted in the 25th minute as Harrison Afful’s long cross found Lucas Zelarayán. Frei did get a hand on the shot, but it wasn’t enough as the ball squirted into the net.
Columbus didn’t meet much resistance on its second goal six minutes later as Zelarayán connected with Derrick Etienne, who calmly one-touched the ball into the far corner.
“It was one of our worst halves of the season at the worst time for us,” Frei said. “We had some spells of possession, but they were meaningless. We weren’t doing much with it.”
Schmetzer elected to go with the lineup that had started the prior four games. Despite the heroics of Svensson and Will Bruin against Minnesota, Svensson was on the bench until halftime, and Bruin came on in the 60th minute.
Star midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro was hampered with a strained calf. Lodeiro often serves as the club’s offensive engine, but he got relatively few touches with Columbus’s holding midfielder continually denying him space to make plays.
“We decided we could start the game like this and then take what the game gave us and make changes,” Schmetzer said.
Columbus sealed the match in the 82nd minute as Zelarayán scored his second of the game off a feed from Luis Diaz. Zelarayan had plenty of time to line up a shot and sent it just over Frei’s outstretched hand.
Another successful season
Although 2020 ended on a sour note, the Sounders reached the MLS Cup for the fourth time in five years, something only one other club — D.C. United, which won the first three MLS Cups — has done in league history. The club finished with 11 wins, six draws and five losses and had a plus-21 goal differential, second best in MLS. Seattle’s 44 goals tied them for third behind Portland and Los Angeles.
And they had all of that success while dealing with stoppages, unbalanced schedules and navigating the uncertainty of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
“The team did come back through some adversity and made it into another final, back-to-back, which is very hard to do in a league like MLS with parity, it’s very challenging, so that is one good accomplishment that came out of this year,” Schmetzer said.
The Sounders announced Monday that it had exercised its contraction options on Bruin, Frei, Nouhou, Shane O’Neill, Alex Roldan and Shandon Hopeau. This gives Seattle 19 players under contract next season to go along with Lodeiro, Yeimar Gómez Andrade, Xavier Arreaga, Josh Atencio, Jordy Delem, Ethan Dobbelaere, Danny Leyva, Jordan Morris, Trey Muse, Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, Cristian Roldan, Raúl Ruidíaz and Brad Smith.
Notable players without a contract include Svensson, Joevin Jones, Kelvin Leerdam and Román Torres. While the club is in talks to bring back some of the players not currently signed, Jones would be notable loss as he is one of four players, along with Lodeiro, Frei and Cristian Roldan who started in all four MLS Cup matches for Seattle.