(Reuters) – Defending champions Seattle Sounders head into the MLS Cup on Saturday against hosts Columbus Crew seeking a third title in five years to rubber stamp their status as the current dominant force in the North American league.
Led by Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro and American forward Jordan Morris, who were finalists for the MVP award this year, Seattle are looking to join D.C. United, Houston Dynamo and LA Galaxy as the only MLS teams to win back-to-back titles.
Seattle’s hopes of reaching the championship game for the fourth time in five years looked all but over in the Western Conference final as they fell 2-0 behind in the 67th minute to Minnesota but the veteran squad refused to go away quietly.
With an MLS Cup berth on the line, the West’s second seeds staged a remarkable three-goal comeback that was completed when Swedish midfielder Gustav Svensson headed home a Lodeiro corner in the 93rd minute.
“Those guys in the locker room never say quit,” said Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer.
“I don’t know how to say it differently: That’s a locker room full of championship players … As a soccer fan, when I look back on this in 10 years, that was an unbelievable performance. I don’t know how we did it.”
Awaiting Seattle in the final, which will have a maximum of 1,500 fans in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is a Columbus side appearing in their first MLS Cup since 2015 when they lost at home to the Portland Timbers.
Columbus have not conceded a goal in their last 210 minutes of playoff action and boast plenty of firepower with American forward Gyasi Zardes, Argentine midfielder Lucas Zelarayan and Portuguese winger Pedro Santos leading the charge.
Seattle may be the more seasoned group but Columbus earned the right to host the game courtesy of having a slightly better points per game record and the East’s third seeds are not intimidated.
“I know the guys in that locker room are really happy to put the Eastern Conference championship trophy in the trophy case – that’s what it is about,” said Crew head coach Caleb Porter.
“But there’s a much bigger trophy, the MLS Cup trophy, that we have our eye on. We expected to be here in this position, we believed we could be here, and now we have the opportunity to play a home game to become MLS Cup champions.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis)