A season ago, the Loons were bounced from the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs by Seattle in the Western Conference Final. That heartbreaking 3-2 defeat involved a stoppage-time goal from Gustav Svensson, ending their dream-filled run.
Minnesota left back Chase Gasper was upfront about the lingering effects of that high-stakes game. With Ramon “Wanchope” Abila now alongside Emanuel “Bebelo” Reynoso – both attackers signed in the last year from Argentine club Boca Juniors – they have some high-end attacking talent to possibly flip the script against Seattle. The only serious departure is midfielder Kevin Molino, who departed in free agency for Columbus Crew SC.
“It stuck the whole offseason and still kind of feeling it, but this is a fresh start,” Gasper said. “We still have that bitter taste in our mouth and it is almost like poetic justice to go back to the same place where it all ended last year and get that opportunity to try to right the wrongs.
“But this is a whole new season, this is a league game, that was a Western Conference Final. Yeah, we have the bitter taste in our mouth, but we've got a whole new team this year and we're looking forward to everything we can achieve this season.”
Minnesota will encounter a slightly different version of Seattle, too, one that’s working on a 3-5-2 formation after historically sticking with a 4-3-3 variation. That change is prompted by Jordan Morris suffering an ACL tear while on loan at Swansea City, while star midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro is doubtful while carrying a preseason knock.
That creates a riddle head coach Brian Schmetzer must solve, all while holding an immense amount of respect for what head coach Adrian Heath’s built in Minnesota. Seattle have made four of the last five MLS Cups, while the Loons made the 2019 U.S. Open Cup final and are on the rise.
“Absolutely we started messaging this two weeks ago, even as soon as the schedule came out that Minnesota's going to be a tricky opponent,” Schmetzer said. “They're obviously going to think about last year and the semifinal and they might have thought they had the game in hand. It was a great comeback by our guys, they never quit.
“So it was a special moment for Seattle sports, for this franchise, but Minnesota was on the opposite end of all that euphoria. He'll have his team ready.”
However much revenge is on Minnesota’s mind, Heath isn’t going to let that sour their approach. There’s a reason this game is on national TV, Heath said, and the expectation is these Western Conference clubs will provide more fireworks after a memorable playoff match last December – four months before this fresh beginning in 2021.
“The one thing I do know, the one thing that will not change is I still think they'll probably end up with one of the best home records come the end of the season like they do nearly every year,” Heath said. “They've got good players, they're well-coached. What have they been to, four of the last five finals?
“There's maybe one or two other places that you would've gone, 'That's going to be really, really tough.' But on the whole, there's not many more tougher places to go and play on the opening day of the season when everybody's full of optimism.”