MLS Cup: Seattle Sounders vs Columbus Crew Positional Comparisons

SEATTLE, WA - MAY 05: Nouhou Tolo #5 of Seattle Sounders works against Alex Roldan #16 of Seattle Sounders in the first half during their game at CenturyLink Field on May 5, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - MAY 05: Nouhou Tolo #5 of Seattle Sounders works against Alex Roldan #16 of Seattle Sounders in the first half during their game at CenturyLink Field on May 5, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

Here’s a positional breakdown of the MLS Cup final between Seattle Sounders and Columbus Crew

Ahead of the 2020 MLS Cup Final, let’s breakdown each team, both the Seattle Sounders and the Columbus Crew by position group (goalkeeper, defenders, center midfielders, and forwards/wingers) based on who is available and will likely see minutes. Soccer is often a puzzle and the best way to approach an important game is to see how the pieces of the puzzle fit to get a clearer picture of what to expect this evening.

Significant Absences

Center Midfielder Darlington Nagbe and Winger Pedro Santos will miss out since they are not medically cleared to play in the final for COVID-19 related reasons.


Former San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell saw some action in this postseason as Eloy Room missed time due to injury. If Room is healthy for the final, the Curaçao national team player is the preferred selection in goal.

There’s no doubt about Stefan Frei‘s importance to this Sounders team. He was the hero of 2016 MLS Cup success where he made seven saves against Toronto FC and Seattle would go on to win in penalties. Whoever the Crew keeper will be, they will likely be the more tested one in this game. Furthermore, when opportunities do come Columbus’s way, they’ll need to be clinical to beat Frei.


There’s no lack of experience in either defense, but in that category, the edge goes to the Sounders. The Western Conference Final against Minnesota United was the first real sign of leaks in the ship in this postseason, but they also offer an offensive presence. Shane O’Neill, who was originally signed as depth for Xavier Arreaga and Yeimar Gomez, ended up playing a vital role with the winning goal against FC Dallas the round prior.

Kelvin Leerdam and Nouhou are fullbacks that would normally start in nearly any MLS club with the younger Roldan brother, Alex, providing Brian Schmetzer a selection dilemma at right back. Despite the increasing roles for O’Neill and Roldan, the core of Sounders defense doesn’t change too drastically. Roman Torres and Brad Smith represent the Sounders MLS Cup pedigree on the bench.

The names on the Columbus Crew defense aren’t quite as alluring from a general MLS perspective, but they enter the final in better defensive form than the Sounders. New York Red Bulls did score two goals against them, but one came long after the game was effectively won. The Crew followed that up with clean sheets against Nashville and New England.

Harrison Afful at right back, a center back partnership of Jonathan Mensah and Josh Williams, and Milton Valenzuela at left back is Caleb Porter’s defensive combination of choice. Chris Cadden, Vito Wormgoor, and Waylon Francis are the next line of defense if needed. This may be one of the few defenses in MLS that won’t be daunted in facing Seattle’s attacking threats but they have to remain cautious.

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Central Midfielders

Without Darlington Nagbe, more responsibility will be played on Artur who is another stronghold of the Columbus team, and Lucas Zelarayan who has made a massive impact in his first season in MLS from Tigres. There are a couple of defensive midfielder options Caleb Porter can select in Nagbe’s absence, namely Sebastian Berhalter and Aidan Morris.

Due to the nature of this season, clubs have been forced to play their youth more often with fixtures often coming thick and fast. This could be the fruit of those games played from a Columbus perspective if one of their young players can rise to the challenge posed by Nicolas Lodeiro.

Speaking of the Uruguayan, Lodeiro needs no further introduction. With 8 goals and 8 assists in 24 games, he can influence the game in a number of ways. Nobody knows until the game unfolds whether he’ll be looking more to finish the chances or set them up for his teammates, and a number of times it can be a case of both.

Though Cristian Roldan can play as a winger, he started the Minnesota game in the center of the park with a bit of mystery surrounding his partner going into the final. Joao Paulo got a start in that game, but did Gustav Svensson do enough coming off the bench and scoring the decisive goal to earn that spot? I think he should start for Sounders. A Swedish international that was part of the 2018 World Cup roster, Svensson quietly makes his presence known by doing the hard work that allows the attackers the freedom to express themselves.


The second successive area where Columbus Crew have a late scratch, Pedro Santos has been good signing for Braga having scored 18 goals in 94 appearances since 2017. When one door closes though, another one opens. Derrick Etienne Jr., one of the key players at New York Red Bulls prior to his switch to the Crew, should be available for selection and is worthy of filling in for Santos with his goal threat and speed.

The other points of attack are 22 year old Luis Diaz and one of the better American goalscorer. in MLS Gyasi Zardes. His main competition for that title will lineup against him in this final. He has his critics, but at least in this league, Zardes has his ways of finding the back of the net and propelling his side forward. If a goal is needed off the bench, Emmanuel Boateng, Youness Moktar, Krisztian Nemeth, and Fanendo Adi are the best options. Sounders are a formidable bunch, but they will have their hands full.

The players that have not only benefited from Lodeiro’s production but have also elevated their games in these advanced positions for Seattle are Jordan Morris and Raul Ruidiaz. USMNT fans are very divided on Morris, especially as young players on the other side of the Atlantic are grabbing headlines and the striker position is one up for grabs.

Like Zardes though, Morris is in a situation where he is set up to thrive at the MLS level and the only reason you wouldn’t bet on him scoring a goal is because of Ruidiaz’s presense. When Raul Ruidiaz is in form, the only deadlier out-and-out striker on an MLS roster is Josef Martinez. That is good company to be in. Crew cannot afford to give him an inch of space in the box.

Joevin Jones is in his second spell with the Sounders following a brief stay at Darmstadt, and the Trinidad and Tobago international is also a threat down the wing. Sounders don’t appear to have as many attacking options on their bench in the Crew, with long time MLS veteran Will Bruin the first on that list.

Which Squad is Stronger Going Into the MLS Cup?

Even with Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos, you cannot overlook the Seattle Sounders. The jury is still out on whether or not the Brian Schmetzer era can be seen as a dynasty, but in any case, this is a special group and one of the best collection of players in MLS history. Now with the Columbus Crew being down two of their three or four best players, the scales tip in Seattle’s favor.

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Caleb Porter won’t just wave the white flag though. Porter is one of the best coaches in this league when it comes to getting the best out of their players in situations of adversity. He leads a Portland Timbers team to an MLS Cup and they had a few absences along the way too. Sounders are the clear favorites, but the Crew will put up a fight and have a reasonable chance of stopping them.

Prediction: Seattle Sounders wins 1-1 in regulation, 5-4 on penalties.