Lucas Zelarayán was Columbus’ driving force in the MLS Cup final. (Kyle Robertson-USA TODAY)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Quite fittingly, Columbus Crew SC gave MAPFRE Stadium the appropriate send-off Saturday night.

The team took a deserved victory lap around the 21-year-old stadium after vanquishing the defending champion Seattle Sounders FC in the MLS Cup final.

The 3-0 final score did not do Columbus justice as the hosts dominated the first half, capturing its second Major League Soccer championship. Crew SC, which will move into a downtown Columbus, Ohio stadium next year, also secured the 2008 title.

Game MVP Lucas Zelarayán led the way with goals as he also set up former Red Bulls midfielder Derrick Etienne, Jr.’s goal.

Caleb Porter became the fifth coach to win MLS Cup twice as he joined Bruce Arena and Sigi Schmid in directing two clubs to MLS glory.

Three years ago, Columbus almost lost Crew SC to Austin, Texas, but a Save the Crew campaign saved the franchise and local owners purchased the club as Austin became an expansion team that will kick off next year.

Despite not having midfielders Pedro Santos or Darlington Nagbe due to positive COVID-19 tests, the Crew found a way to prevail.

Even before the opening kickoff, there was some history made by Columbus as Aidan Morris became the youngest player to start an MLS Cup match at 19 years and 27 days. In fact, he became the second teenager to be in the Starting XI in a cup final, joining Landon Donovan, who played in the 2001 final in Columbus.

The game got off to a fast-paced start as Columbus really forced the issue in the Seattle end. The hosts could not find the range to score in the opening 20 minutes, but they made the Sounders work overtime to keep the game scoreless.

Stefan Frei, who seemingly saves his best saves for MLS Cup, produced a classic one in the 17th minute when he denied Gyasi Zardes shot out of nowhere with his right arm.

The Seattle goalkeeper could not deny Zelarayán, who scored in the 25th minute to lift Crew SC into a 1-0 lead.

Harrison Afful floated in a long right-wing cross that Zelarayán, met with his left foot and booted the ball just under Frei’s arms.

Zelarayán turned playmaker in the 31st minute, sending a pass to Etienne on the left side of the penalty area and the midfielder drilled 12-yard shot past Frei.

Seattle made two substitutes at halftime, replacing Joevin Jones with Gustav Svensson and Nouhou Toto with Brad Smith. That helped give the visitors a boost as Cristian Roldan fired a shot that forced goalkeeper Eloy Room to make his first save in the 48th minute.

Artur tried to make it 3-0 on the hour, but Frei made his second save of the evening.

But Zelarayán gave the host side a three-goal advantage in the 82nd minute, powering a left-footed shot from atop the penalty area into the upper left corner.

Sounders FC seemingly threw everything but the kitchen sink at Crew SC in the second half. Crosses went across the box, shots went array. Jordan Morris headed an attempt off the right post in the 80th minute. The Columbus backline, however, managed to walk away unscathed.