It was all aboard the train to the MLS Cup for the fourth time in five seasons as Seattle Sounders FC completed an improbable comeback Monday night at Lummen Field against Minnesota United.
Next stop, Seattle will face Columbus Crew SC in the MLS Cup Saturday evening.
Veteran forward Will Bruin stepped on the pitch in the 74th minute and sparked a Sounders club that faced almost certain elimination down 2-0. Raúl Ruidíaz’s shot from just outside the penalty area was blocked by a Minnesota defender, but Bruin was in the right place at the right time to send the rebound home and start the march toward a historic night in Seattle.
Ruidíaz, who had a goal waived off by the video assistant referee earlier in the match, tied the affair at -2 off a set piece in the 89th minute. Another substitution, Swedish midfielder Gustav Svensson, headed home Nicolás Lodeiro’s corner kick deep into stoppage time to cement the 3-2 victory.
“In our Sounders history, this is going to go down as one of the best games ever,” Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer said after the match.
Svensson rejoined the team in the past week. He tested positive for COVID-19 in Seattle after returning from Sweden for the international break. He returned just in time for the playoffs, but had to be isolated. Svensson did not have any symptoms.
“I’m happy that they’ve fought and won those games before this game,” Svensson said. “I didn’t want this year to end with me just on the sideline watching on the TV. And I’m very happy now that I could help my teammates play another game and have another week.”
Until Bruin’s goal, it looked almost certain that Seattle’s 15-match winning streak at home would be snapped; for more than two-thirds of the game the men in Rave Green were stymied by a combination of imprecision, indecision and plain old bad luck. Emanuel Reynoso’s free kick goal in the 29th minute gave Minnesota United a 1-0 lead and Bakaye Dibassy put the Loons ahead 2-0 in the 67th minute.
Meanwhile, Sounders FC had chances, but couldn’t put them away. Lodeiro’s early open look sailed over the crossbar; Ruidíaz scored to draw his team even in the 53rd minute, but the VAR ruled that he had fouled a Minnesota defender, knocking him down to break free for the goal.
In the 64th minute, Mercer Island native Jordan Morris, who had a tough night but never relented, smashed a rocket of a shot that rattled the woodwork. It looked as if Seattle had finally run out of magic.
But then off the bench came Bruin. Just moments after he entered the game, Kelvin Leerdam lobbed a ball in to Ruidíaz, who brought it down and whipped around to take a shot. It was blocked by the back of a Minnesota defender, and before he could find it, Bruin pounced and wired a shot into the net to cut the deficit in half.
“You could kind of feel the momentum tilting a little bit,” Bruin said. “We knew if we got one, we were going to get two, and Gustav capped it off with the third.”
Running out of time approaching the 90th minute, Lodeiro sent a corner kick into the penalty area that bounced off Svensson’s ahead and a Minnesota defender. While a mass of bodies went toward the ball like a moth to a flame, Ruidíaz floated away from the pack and was all alone as the ball bounced to him. He stepped into the ball and scored on the short side of the goal to tie the match, his ninth goal in nine MLS Cup playoff matches.
“Those guys in the locker room never say quit,” Schmetzer said. “[They say] we’re not gonna quit, this game is not over, we have chance to win this at 2-2 with 30 seconds to go on the clock, we’re going to make this happen. That’s their mentality. And that’s what I so appreciate about this team.”
Ruidíaz nearly had his second goal of the match just a minute later, but his shot deflected off a defender and then the goalpost. Now another goal seemed almost as certain as defeat had just 20 minutes prior. The only question was whether or not there would be enough time in regulation to avoid extra time.
Three minutes into the allotted four minutes of stoppage time, Svensson got a clean shot at Lodeiro’s corner kick from the right sideline, out-jumping his defender and heading the ball into the far side of the net. Pandemonium erupted, and Seattle was off to the MLS Cup.
It was a near-perfect moment — euphoria mixed with a hint of regret that the team’s most fervent supporters and a crowd of 37,000 strong couldn’t be there to share it. The fans will have to take the ride to central Ohio virtually as the Sounders play for their third MLS Cup in five seasons this weekend.
“I wish that our fans were in the building to witness such a great Sounders victory,” Schmetzer said. “I mean, that was something that we will talk about for many, many, many, many years to come as part of the history of our club.”