Who has the edge in 2020 MLS Cup? Is it the Seattle Sounders, a veteran team competing in their fourth final in five years? Or Columbus Crew SC, who have home-field advantage Saturday (8:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info) at MAPFRE Stadium.
With the big game drawing closer, here’s my look at how the two teams match up in every part of the field, as well as the sidelines.
NOTE: If I’d written this article a few days ago, I’d have given the Crew a couple of these categories, but they’ve been severely weakened by the absences of Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos (both players are not medically cleared to play), making Seattle strong favorites in my book. With that in mind, it’s no surprise the Sounders dominate most of these categories.
It’s very difficult to go against Stefan Frei in this position especially given his history in this particular game — who can ever forget the save from the 2016 final?
Eloy Room has been steady all season for a defensively-sound Columbus and Andrew Tarbell has kept a clean sheet in each of his two playoff appearances. But still Frei has been at the top of his game for about four seasons now and continues to be one of the more reliable netminders in MLS.
There was a time this season when it felt as though the Crew would concede less than 10 goals all year — they were that good defensively. Injuries further up the field destabilized them and they shipped more goals than I expected, but they still ended up conceding less than a goal a game, good for the second best defensive record in the league.
Anchored by Yeimar Gomez Andrade, defense has been a strength of Seattle’s all year. Nouhou has emerged as one of the league’s best left backs and the form of Alex Roldan has meant Seattle has two very capable right backs now.
Jonathan Mensah is perhaps the best defender on both squads, Milton Valenzuela has been excellent all season, and Josh Williams and Harrison Afful have also been very consistent, so although neither side gives much away defensively, I feel the Crew give you that little bit less and so I’ll go with them here, only just.
All things being equal, I’d have given the advantage to the Crew. Nagbe is the best midfielder on both teams and his partnership with Artur has been mostly exceptional. His absence cannot be overstated — he’s irreplaceable.
With that in mind, the pendulum now swings away from the Crew and I expect Seattle’s Cristian Roldan, Joao Paulo and Gustav Svensson to have more of a say in this game. Seattle are at full strength in this area so they now have the advantage.
The Crew are hurt here once again by a notable absence in Pedro Santos. He’s been sensational in the playoffs so far and his absence will definitely be felt.
Gyasi Zardes and Lucas Zelarayan can still hurt the Sounders but the Nico Lodeiro-Jordan Morris-Raul Ruidiaz trident is too dangerous to overlook. Lodeiro continues to elevate his game, especially when the stakes are at their highest. If he can be his usual self, I expect him to run the show and pull the Crew all over the pitch, like he did to LAFC here.
If not for their bench, the Sounders wouldn’t be here. It was the heroics of Will Bruin and Svensson that powered them through the last round and I expect their deep bench to play a role again.
The Crew will have to pull two bench players into the starting XI to replace two key starters, so by default they’ll be further weakening their bench.
Seattle have the experience with this being their fourth final in five years — a truly absurd record. Most of their core group will be playing in at least their third final, and at this point there won’t be anything they haven’t seen.
Home-field advantage has been very kind to the Crew and I expect that to even the playing field somewhat. In some ways, I also think the fact their backs are against the wall will galvanize the group and spark a nothing-to-lose mentality that can be dangerous to play against.
Both coaching staff’\s are among the best in the league and I’m excited to see the game plan that each side will try to implement.
Schmetzer has a ridiculously good postseason record and a win here will put him in the most rarified air.
Porter has won in college, won in MLS and is now looking to the MLS Cup he won with Portland in just his second season in Ohio. If he can pull this off, especially when you consider events of the past 24 hours, it may be his greatest accomplishment yet.
Former MLS star winger Steve Zakuani was a No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft and he played for the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers. He is currently a member of the Sounders broadcast team and has published a book "Rise Above" and a documentary "Unbreakable" surrounding his comeback from a serious injury which marked his playing days. He is also a coach at Bellevue High School and makes a difference in the lives of young athletes through his non-profit Kingdom Hope organization.