The last time the Columbus Crew hosted Seattle Sounders FC, the Black & Gold were crowned 2020 MLS Cup champions after producing the highest-scoring margin ever in an MLS Cup Final.
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A brace from Lucas Zelaryán and another from Derrick Etienne Jr. earned the Crew their second MLS Cup title amidst tremendous adversity – playing through a shortened pandemic-laden season.
When the teams meet again on Saturday night, the Crew will enter the finals rematch facing a different type of adversity. Following the defeat Wednesday night to the New York Red Bulls, Columbus has lost five straight games and currently sits outside of the MLS Cup Playoffs just over halfway through the season.
That’s not alarming 20 games into the season, but it does reiterate that the Crew finds themselves in different circumstances since the last game against Seattle in December. The Crew roster is also noticeably different, too.
Five players who started in that cup final for the Crew have been ruled out of Saturday’s match: Josh Williams, Milton Valenzuela, Artur, Aidan Morris and Gyasi Zardes. Luis Díaz, who also started, is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury.
Only one of the Crew’s substitutes from that squad is still on the team: Waylon Francis.
Why this matters now is that it reiterates Columbus’ quest for a repeat is being fought with new faces, but with the same expectations as the 2020 team. While the Sounders will certainly come to Lower.com Field hoping for revenge – albeit in a less meaningful game – their roster remains similar to its 2020 version. Thus, that’s why it’s not a surprise the club leads the Western Conference.
But Crew head coach Caleb Porter and his players aren’t looking for excuses during this difficult spell of the season. In fact, they’re embracing it as a hurdle to overcome.
“We’ve worked too hard the last three years to build the Club with a strong locker room, strong culture, and with a group of guys that are going to look in the mirror and be responsible, accountable and step up,” Porter said Wednesday night.
“So, when I say we’re going to find out what we’re all made of, you find out how good a player is, how good a coach is, how mentally strong we all are when your backs (are) against the wall and you have to go at home – in front of your supporters who are disappointed with the run we’ve been on – and we’re going to see what we’re made of. There’s no better time to show what we’re about.
“We know that we can win this next game, and when we do, we’re not out of the woods. The next 14 games, now that we’ve dug this hole, it’s going to be tight. We’re going to have to step-by-step, game-by-game, claw our way back into this season, and if the players don’t fight, if they don’t perform – if we don’t stay pulling in the same direction – then we know what’s going to happen. I’m not going to let that happen and I know the players aren’t going to let it happen.”
Taking it step by step means getting a result against Seattle, then another the following week against FC Cincinnati, and so on.
The Crew entered last year’s final as underdogs and had the biggest margin of victory ever. So, on Saturday night, they enter Lower.com Field out of the playoffs and against the Western Conference leaders.
Let’s see how the underdogs fare this time around.