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A First Look at the Columbus Crew vs. Seattle Sounders 2020 MLS Cup

The destination for the 2020 MLS Cup final was determined Sunday, when the Columbus Crew, as the team with the best regular-season record remaining, edged out the New England Revolution, 1–0. Now, the last match of the season has its second participant—and it went down to the wire to sort it out.

The Seattle Sounders rebounded from a 2–0 deficit, storming back to stun Minnesota United 3–2 to reach a fourth MLS Cup final in the last five years. The reigning champions looked to be going out, but Will Bruin's goal off the bench sparked the comeback in the 75th minute before Raúl Ruidíaz (89th minute) and Gustav Svensson (93rd) finished off the shellshocked Loons.

That leaves a Columbus-Seattle final, one rife with storylines and two deserving contenders for MLS's top prize. They met once in the regular season, with a late Ruidíaz penalty kick canceling out Gyasi Zardes's opener in a 1–1 draw on March 7. But that was before the pandemic changed everything and before both teams had to fight their way through a season unlike any other to make it to the cusp of a title.

Here's a first look at Saturday night's 25th MLS Cup matchup:

Seattle remains inevitable

The Sounders have defied what MLS is supposed to be about, so it's no wonder that they keep finding ways to defy doom. The mechanisms meant to install parity within the league are supposed to keep clubs from reaching MLS Cup four times in five years, yet here Seattle is, coming back from certain elimination to deflate Minnesota and make yet another final and win yet another conference title.

So much of its success these days is a product of the Nicolas Lodeiro–Jordan Morris–Ruidíaz trio, and while Ruidíaz certainly played a big role in the comeback Monday night, it was the complementary pieces and the impactful substitutes brought on by manager Brian Schmetzer that pushed the Sounders over the top. 

There's a level of inevitableness to their success, though for the first time in this sustained run, their final opponent won't be Toronto. As it relates to consistency and constantly being in the mix, it doesn't get any better than Seattle. The Sounders have made the playoffs in all 12 years of their existence, and in soon-to-be-out-of-contract manager Schmetzer, they have a club lifer who can navigate even the choppiest of waters with a calmness that indicates they'll make it through to the other side just fine. As they showed Monday night, it'll take something extremely disciplined and special to end their reign.

Columbus and Seattle will play for the 2020 MLS Cup title.

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Familiarity and a tie that binds

Caleb Porter and Darlington Nagbe are no strangers to Seattle. The manager and midfield anchor were front and center in the Portland-Seattle rivalry when both were with the Timbers, and the same can be said for former Timbers forward Fanendo Adi, who now plays a reserve role in Columbus. Porter and Schmetzer have shared plenty of sidelines before, though the stakes haven't previously been as high as they will be Saturday night.

There's also a common bond for both clubs, and that's the late Sigi Schmid. The coach, who died almost two years ago, managed both franchises to some significant heights. He guided Columbus to the Supporters' Shield–MLS Cup double in 2008 before taking the helm for the start of Seattle's MLS days and leading the Sounders to four U.S. Open Cup titles. The league posthumously named its Coach of the Year award after him.

If Schmetzer, who was a longtime assistant under Schmid, can guide Seattle to another title, he'll snap a tie with his former superior and be all alone behind Bruce Arena (5) for second-most MLS Cup titles as a coach, with three. If Porter can bring the glory back to Columbus, he'll pull even with Schmid, Schmetzer, Frank Yallop and Dom Kinnear to become the sixth coach with multiple MLS Cup titles. 

What a turn of fortunes for Columbus

MLS is kicking off in Austin next season, but that very easily could have been last season, with an edition of the Crew. The dramatic 180 and ownership change/stadium outlook in Columbus has been well-documented, but it bears mentioning how unlikely this scenario was just over three years ago, when word of Anthony Precourt's intention to move the Crew first broke. 

Now, a brand-new, downtown stadium is in the works and due to open next summer, the Haslam and Edwards families have been presented with a conference final trophy as the club's owners and the league original will have a chance to lift a second MLS Cup to cap MLS's landmark 25th season. The Crew have not only been saved for Columbus—they can be crowned champions there, too, and give Mapfre Stadium, a place with so much history, a grand sendoff.

This will be the third MLS Cup staged in Columbus, with the San Jose Earthquakes beating the LA Galaxy in extra time in 2001 and the Crew bowing to the Porter-coached Timbers in 2015.

Columbus's lone title came in 2008, with a triumph over the New York Red Bulls in Southern California.