Here are three things to know about the MLS Western Conference championship Monday between the Sounders and Minnesota United:
The conference final is the first meeting between Seattle and Minnesota this season, but the match Monday still could have the feel of a family reunion.
Minnesota midfielder Ozzie Alonso is just the beginning of close ties between the fourth-seeded Loons and second-seeded Sounders. Alonso played for the Sounders for 10 seasons, helping fill the trophy cabinet with a Supporters’ Shield (2014), MLS Cup (2016) and four U.S. Open Cups (2009-11, 2014). He remains in close contact with Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer and players, including co-captain Nico Lodeiro.
An equally tight relationship: Sounders midfielder Joevin Jones and Loons attacker Kevin Molino. The Trinidad and Tobago national team stars also are best friends, stating in an interview Saturday that they haven’t stopped talking nightly despite preparing to play each other for the first time in a postseason setting. Jones and Molino trained together during the MLS shutdown, talking about reaching this point but not expecting it to be against each other. Molino is on pace to win the MLS playoffs MVP award. He’s scored a brace (two goals) in his past two postseason starts and has 12 goals overall this season.
Another significant tie is Sounders reserve Miguel Ibarra. The California native starred for Minnesota through its days as a NASL team (2012-15). When the Loons joined MLS in 2017, he was a starter and fan favorite. The Sounders signed Ibarra in February, and he’s started three matches but hasn’t made an appearance since October.
Although Lodeiro and Minnesota midfielder Emanuel “Bebelo” Reynoso don’t personally know each other well, they both played for Boca Juniors in Argentina and are playmakers in MLS. Reynoso was signed as a Designated Player in September, totaling 13 assists in his past 15 matches.
Eyeing the middle
Whether the Sounders can advance to their fourth MLS Cup in the past five seasons could depend on play in the midfield. Seattle will look to cut off Reynoso’s path to Molino while also continuing to get its attackers in Jordan Morris and Raul Ruidiaz involved. The latter leads the club with 12 goals this season.
The Sounders can’t allow play to get muddled in the midfield as Minnesota will have a similar focus in order to advance to its first league championship in club history. Lodeiro, who will cover ground all over the field, remains the player to stop. He has at least one assist in his past six playoff matches, a MLS record. Lodeiro has nine career assists in the postseason, which surpasses David Beckham.
A streak will snap Monday. Will it be Minnesota’s 10-game unbeaten streak? Or Seattle’s undefeated streak in matches against the Loons? Seattle is 5-0-1 against Minnesota and has outscored the visitors 13-4.
The Sounders also are unbeaten in their past eight matches at Lumen Field. The run is more impressive when only accounting for home playoff matches, Seattle going 14-0 in those games since 2014.
The last meeting between the sides was a 1-0 Sounders victory at Lumen Field to close the 2019 regular season. Monday is Minnesota’s first Western Conference championship appearance.