Sounders seek another MLS Cup, but up first is Minnesota

December 5, 2020

Sure, the Seattle Sounders have an expectation that they're going to win another MLS Cup, but that doesn't mean they're looking beyond Minnesota in the Western Conference final — especially given United's upset victory over Sporting Kansas City.

The defending MLS Cup champion Sounders have played for the conference title in four of the last five seasons. On Monday night they'll host Minnesota, which shocked Sporting 3-0 on Wednesday night in Kansas City. Kevin Molino scored a pair of goals.

“The bar that we set is very high, OK, and it’s reality. I mean, we don’t sugarcoat it, we don’t beat around the bush. We say, look, we want to win,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “We want to be successful. That is what drives a lot of our training sessions, drives the next man up, and all of the things that I say.”

Schmetzer is well aware that the Sounders are considered favorites.

“There’s always pressure. We’re not silly enough to read those quotes from different pundits, different experts, and then take our eye off the prize and forget about our friend Ozzie (Osvaldo Alonso), forget about Molino, forget about all the guys that they do have on the field, and think, `OK, we’re already in MLS Cup,'" he said. "That’s a bunch of bull. I almost swore, but that’s a bunch of baloney.”

In the Eastern Conference final, the New England Revolution will visit the Columbus Crew on Sunday. A look at the two matchups:

REVOLUTION at the CREW

The eighth-seeded New England Revolution were the surprise of the playoffs, getting past Montreal in a play-in game before eliminating both the top-seeded Philadelphia Union and then the No. 4 seed Orlando.

New England has been to the MLS Cup final six times, but has never won the title.

Bruce Arena is the winningest MLS Cup head coach with five titles, twice with D.C. United in the league's first two seasons, and three times with the L.S. Galaxy. He is in his second season with New England.

Arena said the Revs have been steady despite the ups and downs of the season.

“They’ve never quit on each other, or the organization at all. They’ve hung in there and continued to battle in good times and not-so-good times. They’ve always been very consistent about their effort and about their mentality. I guess you could say that’s a reason why they could deal with the highs and lows we experienced during the regular season,” Arena said.

The third-seeded Crew defeated upstart Nashville with two goals during extra time last Sunday. The victory was a relief for Columbus, which had several players out because of the coronavirus.

The Crew had another player test positive on Wednesday. A total of eight players tested positive and were isolated, but at least two were expected back for the conference final.

Columbus has won 11 of 12 games at MAPFRE Stadium this year. Gyasi Zardes led the Crew with 12 goals.

One of the league's original teams, Columbus won the title in 2008 then hosted the MLS Cup in 2015, but lost to the Portland Timbers — then led by current Crew coach Caleb Porter.

"We’ve won three in a row, we’ve won four out of the last five, and our players are full of confidence,” Porter said. “We are defending well and we are scoring goals and that’s exactly the way you want it to happen. You want to be peaking at the right time in the postseason and that’s exactly what’s happened.”

New England is 4-0-3 all-time against the Columbus in the playoffs.

UNITED at the SOUNDERS

The fourth-seeded Loons are led by Molina with four goals in the postseason. He scored twice against top-seeded Sporting, while Emanuel “Bebelo” Reynoso had three assists for the second straight game. Reynoso came to Minnesota from Boca Juniors in September.

Another interesting tidbit? The Loons have won the past three games by 3-0 scorelines.

Despite their recent success, the reality is that Minnesota is — again — the underdog against the Sounders.

“I think it was the bookies and everybody, I think when we got to the last eight teams, if I’m not mistaken, we were the outsiders of all the tournament. Maybe that’s changed a wee bit, but, I guarantee you, we’re going to be the underdogs again," Loons coach Adrian Heath said. "So, hey, let’s go and enjoy that. Let’s go and enjoy the game. Let’s go and try and win it, and that’s what we’ll do.”

To advance to the conference final this season, Seattle downed FC Dallas 1-0.

The steady Sounders have been to the playoffs every season since the team joined MLS in 2009. They won the MLS Cup twice, in 2016 and 2019, and they were the runners-up in 2017. Additionally, Seattle won the Supporters' Shield in 2014.

Raul Ruidiaz had 12 goals for the Sounders this season and Nicolas Lodeiro had 10 assists.

Seattle leads the all-time series with Minnesota 5-0-1.

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