Neither Gustav Svensson nor Will Bruin started for the Seattle Sounders in Monday's Western Conference Final. But they were impact subs in the strongest sense of the word, with Bruin sparking and Svensson sealing a remarkable comeback in their 3-2 win over Minnesota United.
Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer gave the players pretty straightforward directives when they came on in the latter stages of the match. For Bruin, with the Sounders down 2-0, it was to score an elusive first goal. For Svensson, it was to hold down the center-mid position.
"There's a lot going through your head when you're on the bench," Svensson remarked. "When you're not playing, you obviously want to play as much as you can. You want to come in and you want to help the team. Everybody out on the field was running and was fighting, but we couldn't score. We couldn't get the momentum to pin them in, even though we had some chances. There are a lot of thoughts going in your head, but mostly you just want to help out."
"As more time goes by, you're like, 'Alright, come on, I want to go in, I want to go in,'" Bruin added. "Then you just got to make sure you're mentally ready to come in and work hard for the team, because at that point, you've got nothing to lose if it's 2-0. For me, as an offensive player, the perspective is just go try to create."
When Bruin was asked about the specific instruction he got going into the match, he laughed and said, "it'll sound funny, but I wasn't really listening. I just knew I need to go and make an impact."
Bruin scored within two minutes of entering the match, and on the FOX national broadcast post-match interview, Schmetzer credited Bruin's introduction and his presence in the attack with making the comeback possible. But Bruin credits the whole team with finding the fortitude to come back.
"We have a very, very talented team. I think we have a very, very experienced team, and that's a good combination," he said. "You know, we go down 2-0, some teams maybe they just say, "Ah, s---, it's over, we're not going to come back, it's too hard, the circumstances are too tough. But you can feel in this squad, the guys are like, 'Alright, it's do or die time, now we've got to go,' and I think you can see that everybody stepped up a little bit. Everybody turned on a little more, and I think that just speaks to the volume of our whole squad."
Highlights: Seattle Sounders 3, Minnesota United 2
Schmetzer noted after the match that once Raul Ruidiaz found the 89th-minute equalizer, he was beginning to mentally prepare for extra time. But his assistant coaches felt there was one more goal possible before the whistle. That indeed came in the third minute of stoppage time, when the Sounders won a corner and Nico Lodeiro floated the kick in front of goal. Svensson rose to meet it and headed it in for the game-winner.
Svensson revealed in the press conference that he'd been out of action, after returning from international duty last month, with a positive COVID-19 test. While he reports he was asymptomatic and isolated himself fairly quickly, he's happy to have recovered to be part of this historic run.
"I didn't want this year to end with me just on the sideline, watching from the TV," Svensson noted. "And I'm very happy now that I could help my teammates to play another game, and have another week. When you watch from the side, and you're not able to train, you're not able to play, you build up something inside of you. You build up mental strength. You just want to come back and show how happy you are to play games again."
Bruin and Svensson expressed sympathy for the Minnesota players, knowing that the manner of their defeat Monday was particularly painful. But they also expressed pride in what they were able to do to engineer the comeback.
"Gustav's a very veteran player; he knows what he needs to do," Bruin pointed out. "This will be my fifth MLS Cup in 10 years, so I've been in this situation from a league standpoint. So, I knew what I needed to do. I think we're two guys that just take care of our business in a very professional way and it showed tonight."