Seattle Sounders FC defender Gustav Svensson (4) celebrates his game winning goal against Minnesota United during the second half at Lumen Field. (Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports)
SEATTLE – Seattle Sounders FC reminded the American soccer world why it is defending champions of Major League Soccer Monday night.
Faced with a two-goal deficit entering the final 15 minutes of its Western Conference final against Minnesota United, Seattle tallied three times to climax a remarkable comeback and one of the most dramatic comebacks in MLS Cup Playoffs history with a 3-2 triumph at CenturyLink Field.
Seattle will meet Columbus Crew SC in MLS Cup Saturday night as it is win away from becoming the fourth club to win consecutive MLS Cups. The Sounders have won 15 successive playoff games.
“That locker room is a bunch of winners,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “We have gone through adversity from 2016 to now. They find ways to win.”
Late goals by Will Bruin, Raúl Ruidíaz and Gustav Svensson turned the game upside down. Svensson, a second-half substitute, scored off a corner kick by Nicolás Lodeiro to snap a 2-2 deadlock three minutes into stoppage time.
Only minutes after coming on for João Paulo, Bruin sliced the lead in half in the 75th minute. After Ruidíaz’s shot was blocked, an opportunistic Bruin slotted the ball home.
“Will Bruin came on and sparked the team,” Schmetzer said.
Ruidíaz got into the act in the 89th minute as he scored off a play that originated on Lodeiro’s corner kick. Thn came Svensson’s game-winner a few minutes later.
Asked what his team would have to improve to tussle with Columbus, Schmetzer replied, “Set piece defending. We’ll have to be able to possess the ball against Columbus and just be a little more clinical in our transition moments.”
Minnesota grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 29th minute. Shane O’Neill was assessed a yellow card for a fierce foul on Ethan Finlay two minutes prior some 30 yards out.
Emanuel Reynoso then powered his bending free kick over the wall. The ball hit the right post a late-starting goalkeeper Stefan Frei dove to his left in vain to deny the Argentine.
It was Minnesota’s first free kick goal in franchise history, in 127 games, which includes the regular season and playoffs.
Ruidíaz thought he had equalized for the hosts in the 53rd minute but his goal was called back for a foul he committed on Minnesota’s Michael Boxall at midfield while the two players vied for the ball. Ruidíaz beat defender Hassani Dotson before placing the ball past goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair.
Referee Ismail Elfath, with the aid of the VAR, ruled no goal because of the foul.
Jordan Morris came close to tying it in the 65th minute as he rammed a 22-yard shot off the left post.
Only two minutes after Morris’ close encounter, Bakaye Dibassy gave United some breathing room by heading home Reynoso’s free kick from the left side from close range for a two-goal advantage in the 67th minute. It gave Reynoso seven assists in three playoff games this year.
“Minnesota played great. Perfect, right to their game plan,” Schmetzer said.
But not perfect enough against the defending champions.