Minnesota United FC has advanced to their first-ever MLS Western Conference Playoff Final against the Seattle Sounders and will play for a chance at MLS Cup Monday evening.
The Loons, who are riding a 10-match unbeaten streak will attempt to “upset” one of the league’s most proven teams. The Sounders, who have won 14 straight home playoff games dating back to 2014 are 5-0-1 all-time against the Loons since they entered MLS in 2017, outscoring Minnesota 13-4.
Seattle’s playoff pedigree gives them an advantage over the Loons. With a win Monday evening, Brian Schmetzer’s team have a chance to appear in MLS Cup for a fourth time in five seasons. For the Loons, it’s a chance at appearing in their second-ever Cup Final as a team competing in MLS. In 2019, the Loons were runners-up of the U.S. Open Cup, falling to winners Atlanta United.
I spoke to MLSSoccer.com staff writer Ari Liljenwall about the match, discussing players to watch, battles to keep an eye on and more.
Liljenwall sees a lot of similarities between the star playmakers on each roster. For the Loons, it’s the in-form duo of Emanuel Reynoso and Kevin Molino. Against Sporting Kansas City in the Western Semifinals last week, Reynoso had a hat trick of assists while Molino scored a first-half brace. For Seattle, it’s league MVP candidate Nico Lodeiro and U.S. Men’s National Team star, Jordan Morris.
“Reynoso and Lodeiro are both top-end playmakers in the league, and Morris and Molino are both super dynamic, physically gifted wingers,” Liljenwall said. “I think the biggest difference would be playoff experience. Lodeiro and Morris have been through a few of these playoff runs together, whereas Reynoso is new to the league, and I would imagine (he) hasn’t hit his ceiling yet as far as his chemistry with his teammates and familiarity with the opposing teams.”
The biggest storyline of the game, however, is the return of Ozzie Alonso to Lumen Field. The Loons captain was a Sounder for 10 seasons until he joined Minnesota in 2019. The playoffs are in his blood, however, as Alonso has played in the MLS playoffs in 12 straight seasons.
“I expect Ozzie to be up for this game. He was disappointed Seattle didn’t re-sign him, so I think this matchup probably means something extra to him,” Liljenwall Said. “He brings a lot of edge on the field anyway, I have to think having a chance to knock off his old team in their own stadium is an opportunity he’s relishing.”
For the Loons, they key to success against the Sounders is going to be scoring quickly and scoring early. If they can take control early, there’s a good chance they can fluster the Sounders.
What is the Sounders’ key to success?
Liljenwall predicts a 2-1 win for the Sounders due to their consistency on the pitch and recent playoff success, along with having home field advantage. He says to not underestimate the Loons, however — their performance against Sporting Kansas City in the semifinals proved that they’re up to the task Monday evening. Liljenwall also thinks that tonight’s clash could be one of the matches of the tournament. He thinks the biggest clash on the pitch is going to be Alonso versus Lodeiro.
Briefly, I asked Liljenwall who he thinks the favorite is to win MLS Cup, specifically, if it’s the winner of Monday evenings contest.
“Since both of these teams would have to travel to Columbus I have trouble saying they’d be favorites going to MAPFRE [Stadium] on the road, but I think they’re both strong enough to make it a coin flip. If Minnesota makes it, though, you already know where Adrian Heath would stand on this issue.”
The match kicks off at 8:30 p.m. CT on FS1.