The Seattle Sounders aren't making excuses, nor bemoaning luck, refereeing decisions or anything else that often falls under the "what if?" category when losing a final.
Nope, they know they were straight-up outplayed by the Columbus Crew in their 3-0 MLS Cup final loss.
“It’s was our worst half of the season at the worst time for us," goalkeeper Stefan Frei told media on a virtual press conference. "... We weren’t the better team today and deservedly they won.”
"I feel like they hit us with a sledgehammer in the first half and I just felt we matched it in the first few minutes, but it was just relentless and they kind of just got a stranglehold on us and we couldn’t get out of our own half," center back Shane O'Neill added.
Zelarayan would add another goal late in the second half to give the Crew their 3-0 win.
Head coach Brian Schmetzer received a number of questions about his team selection, as he continued with the same lineup that won against Minnesota United last match despite the presence of some regulars on the bench, namely Kelvin Leerdam and Gustav Svensson.
Seattle were down 2-0 against Minnesota before eventually winning 3-2. with contributions from Svensson, Leerdam and others off the bench.
“We assess after each game how the team performed, what we could do better and what worked," Schmetzer said. "There was serious deliberation over certain players but we decided we could start like this, take what the game gave us, and make changes.
“I don’t second guess myself, I try to learn," he added later of his lineup.
Seattle were aiming to become the first team to win back-to-back MLS Cups since the LA Galaxy in 2011-12, and were left rueing a missed chance to solidify their dynasty status. This was their fourth MLS Cup final in five seasons, winning two.
“On one side, we’re not sitting here thinking ‘we should have won’ because we shouldn’t have won," Frei said. "On the other side, you wish we would have played up to our potential because it was a massive opportunity to go back-to-back. It happens very rarely. It happens very rarely to have the chance to win the big one. Who knows if we’ll make it back, right? It’s a massive squandered opportunity for us.”
Seattle head into the offseason hoping to stay in the elite tier of MLS clubs as they have for years. The Sounders have the longest active playoff streak, advancing past the regular season in each of their 12 seasons in MLS.
Still, the loss will put a bad taste around the club throughout the winter.
“We’re going to try to forget about it at some point, but it sucks," Frei said.