MLS Cup - 2020 - CLB vs SEA match up image

Five years ago, a Western Conference challenger came into MAPFRE Stadium to face the Columbus Crew, and came away with an MLS Cup victory. And, of course, Caleb Porter was there, coaching the Portland Timbers to the 2-1 victory. 


Porter will be there again Saturday as the Crew's head coach, while his counterpart Brian Schmetzer has led the Seattle Sounders to their fourth MLS Cup in five years. 


Both teams got through their halves of the playoff bracket without leaving their respective home stadiums, though Seattle did that in the most dramatic way possible, coming from two goals down in the last 20 minutes of their conference final to vanquish a very up-for-it Minnesota United side. 


Here's what to look for. 


Columbus Crew vs. Seattle Sounders FC


Saturday, Dec. 12 at 8:30 pm ET | Fox, TUDN, UniMas in US; TSN, TVA Sports in Canada


The Crew haven't given up a goal in their last 210 minutes of playoff action, and they've done it with Andrew Tarbell rather than usual first-choice Eloy Room in goal. Room may not be medically cleared to play in time for Saturday's contest and, while Tarbell's done well, the Crew's tenacious D has a lot to do with one of MLS's sturdiest back fours, anchored by veteran Ghanian international defender Jonathan Mensah


On offense, Columbus targets Gyasi Zardes (who scored 12 goals in 21 2020 regular-season matches), putting creative players around him. The big 2020 addition, of course, was Argentine midfielder Lucas Zelarayan, who came over from Liga MX side Tigres. Though he's fought through some injury and registered just six goals and four assists in his debut season, he's added a notable spark to the squad. Pedro Santos has also contributed with a six-goal, eight-assist season. 


It's not surprising that the Sounders are in their fourth MLS Cup in five years, but it's certainly surprising how they got there this time around, relying on both stars and role players in an unpredictable-yet-familiar march through the West. Raul Ruidiaz (12 goals, 4 assists), Nicolas Lodeiro (7 goals, 10 assists), and Jordan Morris (10 goals, 8 assists) were all vital throughout the season. Yet, Seattle's got a system and a culture that allows players like Shane O'Neill to deliver a game-winner against FC Dallas in the conference semis and Will Bruin to launch a three-goals-in-20-minutes comeback in the West finals. 


The Sounders' return to MLS Cup also brings the central figure of one of the competition's most iconic moments back: Goalkeeper Stefan Frei, whose leaping save off a Jozy Altidore header was key in Seattle's first MLS Cup win in 2016. 


Having made the playoffs every season since joining MLS in 2009, the Sounders are now seeking their third MLS Cup in five years and surely entering the conversation to be among the truly great, and maybe the greatest, dynasties in MLS history.


The teams also already have a meeting this season under their belts. In what now feels like a lifetime ago, back on Mar. 7 at Lumen Field, Seattle and Columbus fought to a 1-1 draw, with Zardes getting a first-half goal and Ruidiaz leveling from the penalty spot late. 

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