While everyone and their mothers are out there trying to imagine how it will look when Columbus Crew SC and Seattle Sounders FC clash for MLS Cup on Saturday (8:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info), I've taken a little time to go the other way with this Rolls Royce match-up: What would it look like if these title combatants were to team up to make one superclub?
Unsurprisingly, the end result of this imaginary collaboration is downright terrifying. These are the strongest two teams of the year if you ask me, so competition for starting places was always going be sky high. There were many positions where one could hardly go wrong plucking a player from either club.
I've also followed my lone standard "pick an XI" rule, which is to form a team that could actually function in a game — you won't be getting any 3-1-2-4 lineup cards from me. Sometimes, that makes picking a little harder. This time, with so much trusted talent to choose from, it wasn't the slightest problem.
Before we unveil the lineup, let's introduce a sub's bench loaded with an embarrassment of riches: Eloy Room, Harrison Afful, Josh Williams, Nouhou Tolo, Gustav Svensson, Joao Paulo, Cristian Roldan, Lucas Zelarayan, Luis Diaz and Gyasi Zardes.
GK: Stefan Frei
With all due respect to excellent Crew netminder Room, this is a fairly simple choice. Frei typically saves his best for the postseason, which helps explain how he's successfully backstopped Seattle through 13 playoff rounds since 2016.
RB: Kelvin Leerdam
Honestly, this position could have come down to a coin flip. It's that close. In the end, I went with Leerdam for his ability to pick just the right times to crash the box with impunity.
CB: Jonathan Mensah
There aren't many automatic picks in this side, but the Defender of the Year finalist certainly counts as one. Standing tall among the league's top air marshals, Mensah led all center backs in both clearances and shot blocks this season.
CB: Yeimar Gomez Andrade
The Seattle newcomer would make the perfect businesslike partner for Mensah. He just sleekly goes about his business (which is halting opponent rushes) like a shark after chum.
LB: Milton Valenzuela
While Seattle have multiple players that would be more than acceptable here, Valenzuela is one of my favorite players in MLS. He reads the game so well, does everything you'd ask a left back to do very well and steadfastly avoids mistakes.
Truth be told, my very first inclination was to pull Svensson off the Seattle bench to take the defensive midfield role. Then I went back and forth and back again, also considering Joao Paulo and Artur at great length. Eventually, I settled on the Columbus veteran, who manages to be both safe and positive with the ball while also guarding the back line with grit.
CM: Darlington Nagbe
The Sounders have a couple of excellent options for this spot, but there's no avoiding the league's preeminent ball hog. Nagbe rarely loses possession or mishits a pass, and always knows where to find his team's playmakers.
AM: Nicolas Lodeiro
Congrats to Lucas Zelarayan on his well-deserved Newcomer of the Year award. Now step aside, young man, and watch the playoff master work. Lodeiro conducts the game like the hardest-working maestro and then makes sure the control pays off (eight goals and 10 helpers in 20 career playoff matches, 16 of which were won by the Sounders).
RW: Pedro Santos
The Crew veteran typically plays on the left, but produces just as well when operating starboard. And with a certain Sounders speed demon lining up opposite, it will be nice to have Santos' more surgical approach as balance.
ST: Raul Ruidiaz
Obviously, Gyasi Zardes would make a fine starter at striker in this side. He's a reliable line leader. On the other hand, Ruidiaz is one of the most lethal playoff forwards in MLS history (nine goals and six assists in nine games to date). And even when he's not scoring, the Peru international disrupts and tires backlines like few other players in the league.
LW: Jordan Morris
Last but certainly not least, we have another easy pick in the MVP finalist. Morris has speed to burn, the moxie to convert that pace into good chances and the cool to finish them regularly. Seemingly, all he does is win, win, win.