Despite one final bit of adversity this week, the Columbus Crew put together one of the most impressive MLS Cup final performances in memory. They lost important starters Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos due to Covid-19 in the days leading up to Saturday night, but demolished the Seattle Sounders for 90 minutes and won 3-0.
Historic victory for Columbus
No team had won by three goals in an MLS Cup final. Facing a clear favorite in the Sounders, a squad that had more on-paper talent, the Crew took them apart meticulously, scoring twice in the first half and never looking back. It was an impressive performance.
To start, Lucas Zelarayan got on the end of a cross and snuck a volley past Stefan Frei at the near post, offsetting a great Frei save minutes before. Up 1-0, the Crew kept pressing and found a second goal through Derrick Etienne Jr., the winger who replaced Santos in the starting lineup. Zelarayan had the ball in the box and waited patiently for a perfect pass to Etienne.
Columbus, sending their storied MAPFRE Stadium off into the sunset as a new stadium is built, rarely looked uncertain. The Sounders registered just two shots on goal, and the attacking stars were mostly quiet. No matter what they tried, they never found any sort of rhythm.
Interestingly, the Sounders finished with nearly 65 percent possession, something that stayed consistent from the beginning until the end. It didn’t feel like they had that much of the ball throughout the game. Columbus seemed to have control of the pace even when they didn’t have possession. The second they regained the ball, the Crew found advantages.
The loss of Nagbe, a crucial part of Columbus’s ability to set the rhythm of games throughout the postseason, didn’t prove nearly as damaging as it could have been. They compensated with purposeful movement when they gained possession. Replacement midfielder Aidan Morris, a 19-year-old, had a breakout performance next to Artur.
Zelarayan secured the result with an 82nd-minute goal. He had two goals and an assist in a dominant performance, one that rivals any championship performance in recent MLS history. The Crew’s big-time player, their DP No. 10, came through in the biggest moment.
Sounders dynasty in doubt?
The Sounders, fixtures in MLS Cup, are now 2-2 in Cups since they beat Toronto FC in penalties in 2016. The question of their dynasty status, which looked more secure before this game, feels up in the air after this loss. Can they be considered a dynasty now? Is this like the Heatles of 2010-2014, who were 2-2 in the NBA Finals? These will be questions to explore in greater depth.
For now, we can appreciate the job Caleb Porter and co. have done this season in bringing Columbus the biggest soccer trophy in this land. It was a convincing performance in the final. This rollercoaster of a season comes to an end with a worthy champion.