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Experience shines through in Sounders’ thrilling comeback win

The Seattle Sounders were staring in the face of elimination, their MLS title defense on the brink of ending. Down 2-0 at home with as few as 16 minutes to play, they needed something just short of a miracle to save their season.

What the Sounders produced was one of the most epic playoff comebacks in recent memory, with their big-game experience and know-how serving as chief ingredients in it all.

The Sounders advanced to their fourth MLS Cup Final in five years on Monday night, rallying from two goals down in the last quarter hour to stun Minnesota United by a 3-2 mark in one of the wildest finishes of the 2020 season. Other teams facing such a deficit with so little time left in an elimination match may have panicked or even resigned themselves to defeat, but the Sounders’ championship mettle from campaigns past shone through.

“I think experience helps a lot,” said midfielder Gustav Svensson, who scored the winner in stoppage time. “I think experience combined with skills. You have to have the skills and the know-how to win these games, even if you are down 2-0. I think if you have been in these situations before you know you can turn around these kinds of games. Of course, it is easier for you.”

It could be just as easy to point to the Sounders’ resilience as the reason they managed this thrilling triumph, but it was more the way that they went about it that seemed to showcase their experience handling adversity. Trailing by a pair of goals after visiting Minnesota United made it 2-0 in the 67th minute, the Sounders calmly worked themselves back into the match at Lumen Field.

They never appeared frantic or frazzled despite the adverse circumstances and expiring time, playing with a calmness and coolness that appeared to show their confidence and belief. The Sounders got forward almost with ease in the last 20 minutes or so, causing plenty of problems for a Loons team that aimed to protect its lead with numbers behind the ball.

“You could kind of feel the momentum tilting a little bit,” said Sounders forward Will Bruin. “We knew that if we got one, we were going to get two.”

The goals, of course, came for the Sounders.

Bruin started the rally with a cross-body shot to the left post two minutes after checking into the game. His 75th-minute strike was followed by a wide open Raul Ruidiaz equalizer at the far post on a corner in the 89th minute. Finally, just when it seemed like extra time was inevitable, substitute Svensson scored a game-winning snap header on another set piece in the dying seconds.

“Big games, those guys have been there before,” said Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer. “Those guys have been there before and they understand what it takes to win championships and big games. (The match vs.) LAFC last year in the Western Conference Final was certainly a good performance. This was just as good. Different, but just an incredible performance.”

There is still work to be done if these Sounders want to be crowned for the third time in five years, as a road game against the Columbus Crew in the MLS Cup Final on Saturday awaits. The Western Conference winners know that a stiff test awaits, but they remain confident in their ability to get the job done. No matter how difficult things can get, no matter how grim the outlook.

Monday night was testament to all that.

“I think we have a very, very talented team. I think we a very, very experienced team, too. That’s a good combination,” said Bruin. “We go down 2-0. Some teams, maybe they just say, ‘Aw s—, it’s over. We’re not going to come back. It’s too hard. The circumstances are too tough.’

“But you can feel in this squad that guys are like, ‘Alright, it is do-or-die time now. We have got to go.’ I think you can see that everybody stepped up a little bit, everyone turned on a little more, and I think that just speaks to the volume of our whole squad.”

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