SEATTLE – As the confetti flew and the fireworks popped before an empty stadium, the Seattle Sounders were handed the Western Conference championship trophy for the fourth time in five years.
Only a few minutes earlier, the Sounders appeared on the verge of relinquishing their claim of being defending MLS Cup champions.
“I don't know how we did it. I'm just telling you, I don't know how we did it,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said.
The Sounders capped one of the more unlikely comebacks in MLS playoff history on Gustav Svensson's header off a corner kick in the final moments of second-half stoppage time to give Seattle a 3-2 win over Minnesota United on Monday night to advance to the MLS Cup final.
Seattle scored three times in the final 15 minutes of regulation and stoppage time to stun Minnesota and claim a spot in the league championship game for the fourth time in five seasons.
Seattle will travel to Columbus to face the Crew in the MLS Cup final on Saturday. Seattle is just the second team in MLS history to reach the final four times in five seasons, joining DC United in the first seasons of the league.
“God I wish our fans were in that stadium,” Schmetzer said. “I wish I was a fan. ... That was unbelievable. In our Sounders history, this is gonna go down as one of the best games ever.”
Will Bruin scored in the 75th minute to pull Seattle to 2-1 and set the stage for the wild final moments when the Sounders scored twice off corner kicks. Raul Ruidiaz had a fortunate bounce fall at his feet before he beat goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair to pull the Sounders even at 2-2 just before the end of the 90 minutes.
Seattle continued to press for a winner and nearly got it from Ruidiaz only to see his shot hit the outside of the post. But Svensson came through by rising above the Minnesota defenders on the final corner kick.
Svensson said after the game that he tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from international duty last month with Sweden and was why he was unavailable for Seattle's first two playoff wins. Svensson said he was asymptomatic.
“I didn’t want this year to end with me just on the sideline, watching from the TV," Svensson said. “I’m very happy now that I could help my teammates to play another game.”
Seattle will attempt to become the first repeat champs in MLS since the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2011-12.
For most of the night it appeared the young, upstart Loons would be on their way to Columbus to play in their first final in Minnesota’s fourth MLS season. Minnesota had limited scoring chances but took advantage of the ones they did get, taking the lead on Emanuel Reynoso's perfect free kick from 30 yards in the first half. Defender Bakaye Dibassy scored on a header off an assist from Reynoso midway through the second half, and the Loons appeared headed for the final.
“At this moment in time the best way to describe it, it’s just been a little bit of a shell shock to be honest,” Minnesota coach Adrian Heath said.
Reynoso continued to show himself as one of the bright young stars in the league following his move in September from Boca Juniors in Argentina to join the Loons. Reynoso had a part in Minnesota's final 11 goals of the season, either scoring or assisting on each one of them.
“We bent. We didn’t break for a majority of the game,” Minnesota's Ethan Finlay said. “I’m just sick to my stomach, obviously. Everyone in the locker room is sick.”
But Seattle’s late substitutions made a huge difference. Bruin came on and almost immediately scored and the late additions of Brad Smith and Svensson proved critical.
It was just the second time in team history two different substitutes scored for the Sounders. Seattle has now won 14 straight playoff matches at home.
“Credit to those guys for being ready to come in, make a difference and play for their teammates,” Schmetzer said.
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