The Columbus Crew rewarded a spirited home crowd with a dominating 3-0 display against the reigning champion Seattle Sounders to claim their second franchise MLS cup title on Dec. 12
The Crew, in front of a limited-capacity crowd of 1,500, were energetic from the first whistle and sustained much of that early pressure for the entire match. Sounders’ goalkeeper Stefan Frei, whose heroics in the 2016 MLS Cup earned him MVP honors, was forced into a fine save as the Crew were knocking on the door in the opening 20 minutes. The home team was rewarded for their offensive endeavors shortly before the half hour mark when midfielder Lucas Zelarayán turned in fullback Harrison Afful’s deep cross to open up the scoring.
Columbus wasn’t content with their slight advantage, though, and was eager to establish a cushion. Just five minutes later, Afful, once again making expert use of his real estate down the right flank, delivered another teasing cross that rebounded to Zelarayán at the top of the box. The Argentinian had the composure and awareness to slide an inviting ball over to winger Derrick Etienne who caressed a shot into the corner to double the Crew’s lead.
The reigning champion Sounders entered the halftime break completely outplayed, with barely a chance created. Head coach Brian Schetzer, in need of the same spark that powered a comeback victory after trailing 2-0 against Minnesota United in the Conference Finals, used four of his five available subs prior to the 60th minute.
The Sounders began showing signs of life after the 70th minute when attempts from midfielders Nicholás Lodeiro and Gustav Svensson both whistled agonizingly past the goal post. Yet all of Seattle’s effort was undone just minutes later when Zelarayán was once again found in space at the top of the penalty box. Zelarayán, awarded both MLS Newcomer of the Year and MLS Cup MVP, proved once again he was worth the entirety of his club record $7 million price tag when he dispatched a rocket into the top corner to cap off a thoroughly dominant performance. With a 3-0 final, the Columbus Crew were crowned champions of the MLS.
While a championship run is undoubtedly special in any circumstances, the 2020 MLS Cup will mean all the more to the Crew and their loyal fan base due to the sheer perseverance it took to reach this point. Just three years ago, the Columbus Crew was on the brink of extinction as former owner Anthony Precourt attempted to relocate the team to Austin, Texas. However, through an extensive fan-led lobbying effort and new ownership, Columbus was able to save their endeared club.
The “fight against the odds” attitude their supporters adopted permeated onto the field. Despite facing Seattle, a team that’s been to the Cup four out of the last five years, without U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Darlington Nagbe, the Crew pushed on seamlessly with homegrown 19-year-old Aidan Morris patrolling the midfield. Post-match scenes of head coach Caleb Porter serenading the home fans reflect the passion that has elevated Columbus to the pinnacle of MLS.