The 25th edition of Major League Soccer's championship game – MLS Cup – will feature a familiar team (Seattle Sounders) and another that very nearly relocated a couple of years ago (Columbus Crew).
This is the fourth time in five years that Seattle has reached MLS Cup, and the Sounders will be playing for their third league championship. Columbus, on the other hand, has reached its third MLS Cup, having won one in 2008.
Here are some more storylines to follow for MLS Cup 2020 (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on FOX):
Dynasty in the making
The Sounders are entering a rarefied stratosphere. They are now a team annually expected to win, an MLS version of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era New England Patriots.
Seattle already owns the league record for consecutive playoff seasons, 12 and counting since its MLS inception in 2009. It has already won four U.S. Open Cups, just one behind the all-time lead. With their now-regular MLS Cup appearances, the Sounders can become one of the greatest franchises in U.S. soccer history.
On Saturday, coach Brian Schmetzer's Sounders will attempt to become the fourth team to repeat as MLS Cup winners, following D.C. United (1996-97), the Houston Dynamo (2006-07) and the Los Angeles Galaxy (2011-12).
Seattle's power trio
The Sounders' goal-scoring machine is powered by three 2020 MLS Best XI selections: forwards Jordan Morris and Raul Ruidiaz and attacking midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro. Ruidiaz is absolutely devastating in the playoffs, scoring nine goals in nine games for the Sounders, including the game-tying goal in the dramatic comeback win over Minnesota United in the Western Conference final. The Sounders' recent run of championship success was set forth with Lodeiro's arrival in 2016. Morris' speed is a dangerous proposition for any opponent, and he also figures to be in the mix for the U.S. national team when 2022 World Cup qualifying starts next year.
Raul Ruidiaz celebrates his game-tying goal against Minnesota United in the Western Conference final. (Photo: Troy Wayrynen, USA TODAY Sports)
From #SavetheCrew to MLS Cup
The fact that the Crew are even in MLS Cup is an amazing achievement. In 2017, then-owner Anthony Precourt announced intentions to relocate the franchise to Austin, Texas. A movement to keep the team in Columbus proved successful. In late 2018, ownership of the team was transferred to a group that included Jimmy and Dee Haslam, owners of the NFL's Cleveland Browns. And, Austin FC will be an expansion team that begins play in 2021. Now, two years after that chaotic period in Crew history, the team is on the cusp of a championship.
Crew's roster will be put to the test
Much of the credit for the Crew's rise to prominence goes to coach Caleb Porter and team president Tim Bezbatchenko, who joined the team in 2019 and bolstered the 2020 roster with key playmakers.
However, that retooled roster will be put to the test against the reigning champions.
Midfielder Darlington Nagbe – a two-time MLS Cup winner – will not be available to play. Neither will another key midfielder, Pedro Santos. Both were not medically cleared to play, a huge blow to Columbus' title hopes.
Gyasi Zardes has scored 47 combined regular-season and playoff goals for the Columbus Crew. (Photo: Greg Bartram, USA TODAY Sports)
That puts more pressure on attacking midfielder Lucas Zelarayan, who came to the Crew this season on a franchise-record transfer fee, and forward Gyasi Zardes to create goal-scoring chances.
Zelarayan is a dynamic playmaker able to both create and score goals. Zardes, who figures to be in the USMNT mix next year, rediscovered his goal-scoring moxie after a move from the Galaxy to Columbus in 2018, posting double-digit goal totals in each of his three seasons with the Crew.
Epic finale for Mapfre Stadium
Major League Soccer's original soccer-specific stadium will get a dramatic sendoff, hosting MLS Cup for the third time. In 2001, as a neutral site, the stadium hosted the San Jose Earthquakes' MLS Cup win over the Galaxy. In the 2015 MLS Cup, the home team was defeated by the Portland Timbers. That Timbers team was coached by Porter and included Nagbe as its midfielder maestro.
In 2020, Mapfre Stadium has been a fortress for the Crew, who are 12-1-0 (including three playoff wins) in games played at home this season.
Next season the Crew will move into a new stadium in downtown Columbus.
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