Part of what makes Monday’s Western Conference Final between the Seattle Sounders and Minnesota United FC (9:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info) so enticing is the litany of game-changers who could provide a moment (or two) of magic.
Given that context, Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer feels the MLS Cup-bound team will emerge from small margins.
“Monday, when the game's played, the team that makes the most plays, whether it's Reynoso or Nico or Lod or Raul or Jordan or Molino, which team makes the most plays, they're going to win,” Schmetzer said.
It’s a simple remark, but also one that’s reflective of the clubs’ collective quality. The Morris-Lodeiro-Ruidiaz trio placed on the 2020 MLS Best XI, while Molino has back-to-back two-goal games in the playoffs and Reynoso has assisted on all six of Minnesota’s goals during the postseason.
There are players in less-heralded roles, too, including defensive midfielder Ozzie Alonso and goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair for Minnesota. It's clear that Schmetzer carries a high level of respect for their fellow Western Conference finalist.
“Kevin Molino is on a hot streak, Reynoso is a very talented young man,” Schmetzer said. “I thought Ozzie was great, I thought his leadership showed through in the game, I thought the goalkeeper had a very good game for being a young man that doesn’t have a ton of experience, he’s done extremely well. It’s a tricky team, they play with a false 9, it’s hard to manage sometimes, the fluidity of their attack.”
Schmetzer also praised how head coach Adrian Heath has navigated the 2020 season’s oddities to book Minnesota’s second straight Audi MLS Cup Playoffs appearance. They’re on a 10-game unbeaten streak stretching back to the regular season, and have now recorded three straight 3-0 wins after Thursday’s dispatch of Sporting Kansas City.
“It's the playoffs. Every team that's made it this far has had to do something well,” Schmetzer said. “They're on a 10-game unbeaten streak, their last three results were great. He's doing something well. It took us a little bit longer, we didn't quite have that little patch right before the playoffs started, we weren't great. Now we've got three games in a row where you can say we've won the games against quality opposition, so I think our team's ready to go.”
One potential benefit for Seattle is they have two extra days of rest, having beaten FC Dallas1-0 on Tuesday in the other Western Conference Semifinal. Seattle will host Minnesota, too, marking their third straight playoff game at Lumen Field.
Schmetzer doesn’t pay too much mind to that part, though. Rather, he expects two quality teams to converge and whoever limits mistakes to reach MLS Cup.
“When you get to this stage of the playoffs, it's the mental side of your games – here again, this is where I think Adrian has done a great job – they're a mentally strong team,” Schmetzer said. “They could've gone down, they could've taken a goal. Sporting Kansas City was all over 'em, they didn't fold. They actually came back and said, 'OK, let's change gears here a little bit, let's see what we can do.' And the mental aspect of playoff games, in my humble opinion, is where the games are won or lost."