With two key starters missing, Caleb Porter's boys came in as clear underdogs. That did not stop them from running play in the opening frame, with their high pressure hampering the rhythm of the title defenders from Seattle. The home side sailed into halftime with a two-goal edge and made it stand up all night.
The difference-maker for Columbus was Newcomer of the Year Lucas Zelarayan, who capped the team's hearty play with three moments of brilliance. Meanwhile, Seattle's stars were subdued right out of the match by a balanced Crew effort.
Columbus Crew SC
Eloy Room (7) — The winning netninder didn't have much to do for most of the night, but earned his paycheck with a big 80th-minute save on a Jordan Morris header that could have sliced the lead in half.
Harrison Afful (6.5) — The Crew right back had various issues down in his corner throughout the night, but a lot can be forgiven thanks to the picture-perfect cross he delivered for Zelarayan's winning goal.
Jonathan Mensah (8) — While he may have missed out on the Defender of the Year prize, Mensah was the best back liner in the title match. He quite predictably was an absolute beast in the air, and kept Ruidiaz eerily quiet for most of the night.
Milton Valenzuela (7) — It was precisely the fully functional two-way flank outing one would expect from Valenzuela.
Artur (7.5) — Even if you take away Artur's build support and his handful of strong defensive stops, he'd have been a standout just from his constant ability to keep all Seattle attackers coming down the middle from being able to turn toward goal.
Aidan Morris (7) — I won't lie. I figured Columbus would not be able to cover for the loss of Darlington Nagbe. Morris proved me wrong by doing many of the things Nagbe does. He scooped up loose balls, worked out of trouble and made the simple pass to get the team away. Nothing fancy, just good work. Kudos to the youngest player to ever start an MLS Cup.
Lucas Zelarayan (10) — I'm just going to say it: This performance has to be on a very short list for the greatest individual whistle-to-whistle display in MLS Cup history. Zelarayan kept possession alive with some insane touches, he won a small bushel of free kicks and he even checked back to offer defensive help to Morris. And when it came to to make the big plays, Zelarayan did it with style, as if the game was moving much slower for him than it was for everyone else. Each of his finishes was a proper peach, and his assist was just as good. Take a bow, champion.
Luis Diaz (7.5) — The hot wheels on Diaz caused trouble for the Sounders time and again, and he picked up a shrewd helper on the capping goal. Throw in a slew of track-back plays to win the ball and you've got a very well-rounded wing showing from the youngster.
Gyasi Zardes (7) — You won't find Zardes' name on the scoresheet, but he still pitched in with a lot of the little things that aid a team to victory. His runs in attack routinely cleared space for others and the striker also got back to notch seven area clearances in the second half.
Derrick Etienne (7.5) — Like Diaz, Etienne tracked back well to pile up several defensive stops. He was quieter up the wing than his bookend, but certainly loud enough with the classy strike that put his side up two.
Coach Caleb Porter (10) — I was thinking, hey man, don't be so generous with the perfect grades. But really, what could I ding Porter for? He played this game like chess, starting with the lineup calls to replace Nagbe and Pedro Santos. He pushed his lines of confrontation so high in the first half that Seattle couldn't build with their usual precision until they were down two goals. And just when it looked like the Sounders might gain rally momentum, he urged the team to get on the ball, which led to the coffin nail of the third goal. Sounds flawless to me.
Hector Jimenez (6) — A sturdy sub for the closing minutes.
Fatai Alashe (-) — Only on for a few moments, but helpful nonetheless.
Waylon Francis (-) — A mere cameo.
Highlights: Columbus Crew SC 3, Seattle Sounders 0 (MLS Cup 2020)
Seattle Sounders FC
Stefan Frei (7) — The Seattle backstop got off to a great start by keeping the game scoreless with a robbery of Zardes' 16th-minute drive. You can't really fault Frei on any of the Columbus goals, even if he'd probably insist he should have stopped the first one. For me, he did well just to get a hand on it.
Alex Roldan (4) — I was a bit concerned pre-game that the right back convert got the start over Kelvin Leerdam, and those concerns found form during the game. Roldan was caught up on the first goal. I won't blame him for getting sucked toward the middle on the second, but his attempt to block Etienne's goal-bound shot was lackluster. He also failed to have any impact going forward.
Shane O'Neill (6.5) — For the lion's share of the night, O'Neill was strong. He made a host of stops around the area, and in particular did well when pulled out of the middle. Unfortunately, his one mistake cost the team big on the second Crew goal. Not only did his lunging clearance attempt fall straight to an unmarked Zelarayan at the top of the box, but it forced his fellow back liners to slide over, leaving Etienne alone at the far post.
Yeimar Gomez Andrade (7.5) — The center back was comfortably the best Seattle player on the field. Yeimar made every necessary intervention when called upon, and wasn't culpable on any of the goal leaks. He also moved the ball positively and safely when he wasn't simply hoofing long.
Nouhou Tolo (5) — The speedy left back had his motor revved early, but wasn't able to make anything happen with a few decent advances into the final third. Nouhou also had some issues slowing down Diaz.
Joao Paulo (4) — There's no getting around it, the visitors needed a much better outing from their midfield gate-keeper. The larger problem was that Joao Paulo couldn't keep Zelarayan from finding office space in Seattle's end, but his outlet passing was also a bit flat.
Cristian Roldan (7) — The midfielder battler was turning up all over the place, handling a variety of tasks with his standard aplomb. Many times, this was good. On the other hand, there were a few times when his tendency to roam toward these spots of contention left teammates with too much to do once play came the other way.
Nicolas Lodeiro (5) — This was a sub-par showing from the Seattle quarterback. Lodeiro had the hardest time finding room to operate for the first hour. When he did get on the ball with a chance to make something happen, many of his moves lacked execution.
Joevin Jones (4) — The veteran floated away from the wing far too often, which hurt the team in both directions. Jones was far too static once on the ball, often standing still to deliver a vanilla pass.
Raul Ruidiaz (5.5) — In all honestly, the Sounders hit man probably did all he could. Ruidiaz was starved of touches, let alone service, for most of the game.
Jordan Morris (5) — For the first hour, Seattle's hometown hero was a shell of his usual self. Morris had some early opportunities to drive attack, but either couldn't come up with an idea or suffered a bad touch. The Best XI winger picked up his game down the stretch, but it wasn't enough to get his team back in the game.
Coach Brian Schmetzer (4.5) — The Sounders boss typically has all the answers, but they were a lot fewer and farther between in this contest. I know Schmetzer likes to stick with a winning side, but not starting Leerdam was an obvious gaffe. Then, when down to at the half, he subs in a left back and defensive midfielder. Yeah, it wasn't a good plan this time.
Gustav Svensson (6.5) — The halftime sub did what he was sent on to do. He made it harder for Columbus to possess and got his side moving in the right direction.
Brad Smith (5) — The left back made a play here and there during his 45 minutes, but was thoroughly skinned by Diaz on Columbus' third goal rush.
Kelvin Leerdam (5.5) — It was a decent half-hour shift from the Dutchman, but his contributions ended when Seattle reached the final third, which was where they needed him to contribute.
Will Bruin (6.5) — The Dancing Bear gave the away attack a boost with his target play, but there would be no boogie demonstrations on this night for the playoff specialist.
Jimmy Medranda (6) — The veteran gave a fair enough account of himself over 13 minutes.