If history is any indicator, Columbus Crew SC will lean on its notable home-field advantage come Saturday as the Black & Gold get set to face Seattle Sounders FC in the 2020 MLS Cup.
Seattle comes in like a juggernaut in its own right as they make their fourth MLS Cup appearance in the last five years, including a win just last year back in Seattle.
Still, a 12-1-0 home record and a current 210-minute shutout streak for Columbus bode well against a Seattle side that is 3-3-3 on the road this year.
How Columbus, Seattle Got Here
The Crew played on the front foot throughout their run to a third MLS Cup appearance, rallying from an early deficit to defeat the New York Red Bulls, 3-2, before a pair of clean sheets in wins over expansion side Nashville SC and fellow MLS original New England. Notably, the Crew have not had to play a road match since November 4, while going 4-0-0 since.
As for Saturday's opponent, the Sounders have also enjoyed some home cooking, where they've won an MLS record 15 straight playoff games at Lumen Field. But their road was considerably rockier, especially having to rally late from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Minnesota United 3-2 in the Western Conference Final on Monday.
Prior to that, Brian Schmetzer's bunch enjoyed a thorough win over LAFC in Round One before grinding out a 1-0 victory over FC Dallas in the Conference Semifinals.
This is the third MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium, with the San Jose Earthquakes defeating the LA Galaxy in the 2001 Final and the Portland Timbers, then coached by Caleb Porter, upsetting the host Crew 2-1 in 2015.
The Crew defeated the New York Red Bulls in 2008 to win their lone MLS Cup, while the Sounders are seeking their third title in five years and could join D.C. United, the Houston Dynamo, and the LA Galaxy as the only teams to win consecutive crowns.
Columbus Crew SC
Caleb Porter said he had a dream when he accepted the position of Columbus Crew SC coach. It was to return to MLS Cup, to have the match played at MAPFRE Stadium and for Columbus to celebrate another MLS Cup champion. They are on the grand stage again following a professional 1-0 win over the Revs.
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To reach MLS Cup for a third time in club history, Columbus needed attacking players like Gyasi Zardes and Lucas Zelarayan to work off the ball and for the defensive linchpins like captain Jonathan Mensah and defensive midfielder Artur to create that special offensive moment for the game’s lone goal.
Porter lauded his team's collective defending, not just on Sunday, but throughout this run.
“These guys work, and I think that’s been the real difference this year is we’re balanced,” Porter added. “We’re good on the ball, but obviously we’re a good defensive team and that’s usually what makes the difference is the balance. We’re going to need that in the final because we’re going to be playing against a very good attacking team.”
The Crew's return to MLS Cup caps a remarkable turnaround for the MLS original, whose existence was in jeopardy just a few years ago. But following the successful #SavetheCrew campaign, the club got kickstarted with the arrival of the Haslam Family and Edwards Family ownership group, and shifted into gear with the arrival of Porter and President & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko at the start of 2019. And it seems to have been capped by the acquisition of Zelarayan a year ago.
“These guys have become winners,” said Porter. “And I told them that in the locker room: They’ve evolved from good players into winners. It's a credit to the group, because we have some very creative players that help us play football, but I think what I'm most proud of is, when we don't have the ball, how hard they work."
Seattle Sounders FC
The Sounders were favorites to get back to MLS Cup, certainly when the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs started, but that doesn't mean it was easy for Rave Green. They were in familiar territory by playing in the Western Conference Final, but faced a rare deficit when Emanuel Reynoso scored on a sensational set piece and set up Bakaye Dibassy to give the Loons a 2-0 lead in the 67th minute.
The difference according to Schmetzer? Will Bruin, who came on for João Paulo to give Seattle another option up front. The 31-year-old, who hadn't played a minute this postseason, gave the Sounders the necessary shot of adrenaline by pulling Seattle back a goal in the 75th minute. It was Bruin's first playoff goal since 2017. What followed was nothing short of remarkable. Raul Ruidiaz struck for the 89th-minute equalizer before Gustav Svensson, who also came off the bench in the second half, headed in the stoppage-time winner off a Nico Lodeiro corner kick.
Three goals in 18 minutes and the Sounders are back in MLS Cup again. Schmetzer said he's not sure how they did it, but they did it again and in historic fashion.
“In our Sounders history, this is going to go down as one of the best games ever. I'm just telling you,” he said after the match. “Look, the final last year, we won a final, we won MLS Cup. But this has to rank right up there. This was a great win.”
Columbus went into Seattle back on March 7 and came out with a 1-1 draw, as Seattle leveled the match in the second half with a penalty kick that was originally saved by Columbus's Eloy Room, but the Curacao international was deemed to have left his line too early and Seattle capitalized on the re-take.
Saturday's match is the first-ever postseason meeting between the two Clubs, while Seattle holds the advantage in meetings at MAPFRE Stadium, 4-2-1, with 11 goals scored compared to Columbus's eight goals scored.
The last regular-season meeting between the two sides at MAPFRE Stadium came on July 6, 2019, when the Sounders pulled out a 2-1 win.
Notably, Columbus is 17-7-2 all-time in home post-season matches, as the Black & Gold have not lost a home playoff match since the 2015 MLS Cup final.