The reigning MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders have looked every bit like a reigning title-holder during their current run through the MLS playoffs, but they are about to face one more steep hurdle before they can complete their return to the MLS Cup final, an opponent that has been arguably the most impressive team in the postseason.
Minnesota United has posted a pair of emphatic 3-0 victories to reach Monday’s Western Conference final at Lumen Field (9:30 p.m., FS1) and the Loons have the look of a team capable of knocking off the seemingly unstoppable Sounders.
Led by the dynamic duo of Kevin Molino and Emanuel Reynoso, Minnesota United has torched opponents with a lightning-fast counter, Molino’s cold-blooded finishing and Reynoso’s radar-like precision with his passing.
The Sounders boast their own impressive firepower in the form of Best XI trio Nicolas Lodeiro, Raul Ruidiaz and Jordan Morris, who are the most dangerous trio in MLS, and a more potent attack than the Loons have seen these playoffs.
Monday’s showdown also features Ozzie Alonso’s return to Seattle, and the Sounders legend isn’t just back for a reunion, as he will be key to trying to stop his former teammates.
With so much attacking quality on display, Monday’s West final will come down to which defense can hold up the best, and commit the fewest mistakes as they face a barrage of chances.
Here is a closer look at Monday’s Western Conference Final:
This is the first meeting in 2020 between the Sounders and Minnesota United, and the first-ever playoff meeting between the two.
Players to Watch
The Uruguayan playmaker is the heartbeat of the attack, and when he isn’t setting up Ruidiaz and Morris, he is creating chances for himself. The Loons central tandem of Ozzie Alonso and Jan Gregus is formidable, but Lodeiro has proven himself to be capable of breaking down the stingiest of defenses.
The Trinidadian playmaker has been virtually unplayable during the playoffs, scoring four goals in two matches. You can also make the case for Reynoso, but Molino’s mobility, and ability to attack from different areas of the field make him the one to watch in the Loons attack.
Matchup to Watch
JORDAN MORRIS vs. ROMAIN METANIRE
Morris has game-changing speed, and his ability to sniff out defensive vulnerabilities and attack them with pace make him a dangerous weapon. Metanire is a rare fullback with the physical tools to deal with Morris defensively, but also the quality getting forward to force Morris to also do some defensive work. If Metanire can neutralize Morris, the Loons have a chance to pull off the upset.
A player with a penchant for stepping up in big moments, Roldan is often forgotten when discussions of Seattle’s key players arise, but the USMNT midfielder has a knack for capitalizing when teams pay too much attention to the Sounders’ Best XI trio in attack.
Another player who has been overshadowed by his attacking teammates, Lod is a clever player who is very smart about slipping into spaces created by defenses focusing on Molino and Reynoso. Lod is also capable of creating his own shot and the Loons are sure to try and isolate him on Sounders defender Shane O’Neill, who is likely seen as Seattle’s defensive weak link.
When you outscore your opponents 6-0 in a pair of blowout wins it is easy to assume you haven’t been tested, but Minnesota United’s run to the West final has offered Seattle some evidence that the Loons can be tested and beaten.
The Sounders need only reference the first 15 minutes of Minnesota United’s win against Sporting Kansas City, a match that could have had a far different outcome if SKC could finish its chances after creating a handful of them early on.
Seattle isn’t likely to miss such chances, and the difference in Monday’s West final is very likely to be whether the Sounders can break down Minnesota’s defense as easily as SKC did in the early-going of their meeting. The Loons defense is a solid unit, but one that clearly has its vulnerabilities.
Minnesota United won’t just sit back and absorb pressure though, Adrian Heath will have his Loons going after Seattle’s defense, with Emanuel Reynoso the key to putting pressure on Sounders midfielders Joao Paulo and Cristian Roldan.
A player who could have a major impact on the match is Joevin Jones, the speedy winger could benefit from the attention paid to his more high-profile attacking teammates, and could find success against Chase Gasper, who has had his shaky moments in the playoffs.
Another key to watch is who Seattle starts at right back. Alex Roldan has held his own, but Kevin Molino is a formidable assignment and Brian Schmetzer could turn to Kelvin Leerdam to try and help contain the Loons star.
Overall, the Sounders have the advantage due to a more dangerous attack, and steadier defense, but if the Loons can strike early, and goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair can turn in another strong showing like he did against Sporting KC, then Minnesota United has a chance of knocking off the champions.