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Lucas Zelarayán Sounders
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No repeat for Sounders as Columbus Crew win MLS Cup final 3-0

Five days after the Sounders kept their hopes of repeating as MLS Cup champions alive by pulling off one of the greatest comebacks in Seattle sports history, they needed another one to seal the deal.

This time, something stood in their way: Lucas Zelarayán.

Crew 3, Sounders 0: Box score

The Crew star scored two goals and assisted on another, leading the way in a 3-0 MLS Cup final win for Columbus over the reigning champs in front of its home fans. Columbus built a 2-0 lead by halftime and didn’t just hold on in the second half but added on.

The Sounders stormed back from a two-goal deficit to beat Minnesota United 3-2 in the Western Conference final on Monday, scoring in stoppage time to clinch their fourth appearance in the MLS Cup final in five seasons, but they struggled to come up with clear shots on goal against the Columbus defense at any point on Saturday.

The Crew didn’t have the same problem – thanks to Zelarayán.

“This guy was unbelievable,” Crew head coach Caleb Porter said of Zelarayán. “I don’t think he had a wrong step for 90 minutes. He just got the ball every time. He carved space for himself, all the time.”

Zelarayán was the clear standout in the first half, factoring in on both of his team’s goals. First he got a shot just past Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei in the 25th minute.

Six minutes later, Zelarayán faked a shot inside the box and instead passed to Derrick Etienne, who drilled the ball in front of Frei and into the opposite corner of the net.

“Obviously, you go one goal down, that’s OK. But going two down certainly was a dagger,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said. “That was something that you have to give credit to Columbus.”

The Sounders had a flurry of near-misses in the second half. In the 70th minute, Nicolás Lodeiro took a short pass in the box from Jordan Morris, but the shot from his left foot missed just right. Gustav Svensson had a header off a corner kick go wide minutes later, and another header by Morris was slapped away by Crew goalkeeper Eloy Room.

Seattle’s inability to cut into the Crew’s lead proved costly as Zelarayán put the game away in the 82nd minute with his second goal.

It’s the second MLS Cup title for the Crew, who also won in 2008.

Zelarayán, the MLS newcomer of the year and largest signing in franchise history, picked up the slack against the defending champs on a night the Crew were playing short-handed. Columbus was without midfielders Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos after both tested positive for COVID-19 this week.

“We were not going to let history in the past determine today,” Porter said. “This is our year. This is going to be our year, it was going to be our day, it was going to be our trophy. And that was my message before the game. I don’t care what they’ve done in the past, it’s going to be decided on today.”

The Sounders were trying to be the first repeat champions since the LA Galaxy in 2011-12.

“It’s a massive opportunity to go back to back, which happens very, very rarely. It happens very rarely that you find yourself in situations to win the big one. So who knows if we’ll ever make it back?” Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “It’s a massive, squandered opportunity for us and all credit to them. They played a good game. They were hungry.”

Schmetzer said afterward that Lodeiro was dealing with a calf strain that limited his effectiveness.

“It’s certainly not a good way to end your season,” Schmetzer said. “But I would circle back and say that the club, the team, did come back through some adversity, and made it to another final, back to back, which is very hard to do in a league like MLS with parity.”

This post includes contributions from the Associated Press.

Sounders-Crew scoring summary

COL – Lucas Zelarayán (Harrison AffulAidan Morris), 25′
COL – Derrick Etienne (Zelarayán), 31′
COL – Zelarayán (Luis Díaz), 82′

Shots – Columbus 15, Seattle 13. Shots on target – Columbus 5, Seattle 2. Saves – Columbus, Eloy Room 2; Stefan Frei 2.