2017 MLS Cup Preview

We’ve finally made it. I know it seems like it took forever to get here (because it did), but MLS Cup is upon us. And guess what? Nine months after the MLS season kicked off in March, we wound up right where many people thought we would… a rematch between Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders FC.

We all know Toronto FC hosted the Sounders at BMO Field last year as both teams searched for their first ever MLS Cup. Ultimately, Seattle ended up defeating Toronto in penalties after a 0-0 draw in regulation and extra time. That’s about where the agreement on that match ends, though. The narrative surrounding last year’s MLS Cup differs drastically depending on if you’re talking to a Toronto or Sounders supporter.

TFC supporters will go to great lengths to remind you that Seattle had exactly ZERO shots on goal during the match. What kind of team wins a game without earning a single shot on goal? Can you even be considered a legitimate champion if you can’t fire the ball on frame? TFC played a better, more complete match than the Sounders. Toronto outdid Seattle in just about every statistical category: possession, passing accuracy, shots, shots on goal, shots blocked, etc. It was clear that Toronto deserved the win, and TFC fans have not let Seattle fans forget it.

Sounders fans remember it differently. Yes, the stats show that Toronto owned most of the possession and took far more shots. But, a stout Sounders defense and a heroic performance from goalkeeper and match MVP Stefan Frei simply outclassed Toronto’s attack. Who could forget THE save?
 

The Sounders played their hearts out, did what they had to do against the high-powered Toronto attack, and forced Giovinco, who was suffering from cramps, out of the game without a goal. Toronto’s captain, Michael Bradley, would go on to miss his penalty kick during the shootout, and Sounders defender Roman Torres stepped up to bury his sudden death kick from the spot and win MLS Cup for Seattle. What does it matter that you didn’t earn a shot on goal during play if you end up with the victory? Simply put, it doesn’t.

All of that has led to what’s become a strange rivalry of sorts, if you will. Toronto is looking for redemption, while Seattle is out to prove that their victory from last year was no fluke.

To be honest, all of the pressure is on Toronto this year. The Reds are coming off the most successful MLS season of all time based on points, earning 69 points during the regular season. They’re hosting the Cup final in a year when they lost exactly ONE game at home during the regular season. (Toronto did lose a second home game to RBNY in the postseason during the Eastern conference semifinals, but they still advanced on aggregate goals.) Seattle on the other hand only won three times on the road during the regular season, but they added a fourth in the playoffs after beating Houston 2-0 on the road in the Western Conference finals. Still, that brings their road record in 2017 to a mere 4-8-7 (W-L-D).

If Toronto fail to win the Cup again, will any of their regular season success have mattered? Yes, they won the Supporters’ Shield and set the record for most points in a season, but whether right or wrong, MLS Cups are what teams are measured on in MLS. Ask the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors if they were happy setting the NBA regular season record for wins only to lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, or the 2007-08 New England Patriots if a perfect 16-0 season mattered after losing to the 10-6 Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

Seattle, on the other hand, are looking to cement themselves as the powerhouse of MLS. A win for the Sounders would give them more MLS Cups won (2) since they joined the league in 2009 than any team except the Los Angeles Galaxy (3). Add that to four U.S. Open Cup wins and a Supporters’ Shield, and they’re right in the argument for most successful MLS franchise of all-time given their relatively short MLS existence. And if they lose? Well, they lose to what many are calling the best MLS team of all time. Sounds to me like the Sounders are playing with house money.

On the field, both teams should be mostly unaffected by injuries. Jordan Morris will be available for the Seattle Sounders after dealing with a hamstring injury for more than three months. Ozzie Alonso is listed as “questionable” with a quad strain, but he’ll likely be in the eighteen for the Sounders if he can’t start. Defender Brad Evans is the only player listed as “out” for either side.

Toronto’s only player on the injury report is forward Jozy Altidore, who picked up an ankle injury in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Finals against Columbus. The injury shouldn’t slow him down too much, though, especially after he stayed in the game against the Crew and scored the eventual winner that would send TFC to the MLS Cup Final.

I don’t think we’ll see another zero shot on goal performance from Seattle. The addition of Will Bruin and the return of Clint Dempsey for the Sounders has given them a dynamic attacking duo that they missed last year once Deuce went out with a heart condition. Dempsey and Bruin are the top two goal scorers for Seattle with 12 and 11 goals respectively, and they’ve developed a partnership that few attacking players in MLS have.
 

Don’t be surprised if this game starts off a bit slow as both teams try to feel out the other side. Seattle certainly won’t “park the bus” and play a defensive game, but I’m not sure they’ll come out of the gate hot like they did against Houston. Toronto is a much more dangerous side than the Dynamo, and Seattle will want to pick their spots wisely to make sure they don’t leave themselves vulnerable on the counter.

Toronto may be a bit more aggressive to begin with. They’re the team with everything to lose. Home field advantage can be huge in MLS, and TFC has to get the crowd into it early. The energy will be electric at BMO Field pre-match, and the worst thing that could happen is a deflating early goal by the Sounders that takes the crowd out of the game.

If Toronto has any hope of avenging their loss last year, they will need to play much better than they have as of late. Their last couple months of soccer have been underwhelming at best—barely scraping by RBNY and Columbus in the Playoffs—while Seattle enters the MLS Cup Final in great form coming off a 5-0 aggregate win in the Western Conference Finals.

PREDICTION: Toronto FC 1 – 2 Seattle Sounders FC

I honestly think this will be a very close, competitive game. Both teams will get chances, but in the end I think Seattle will pull it off for the second year in a row. It will take a late goal to do it, but I could see Clint Dempsey scoring off a Lodeiro or Bruin assist between the 80-90’ their second MLS Cup.

HOW TO WATCH: 
Toronto FC v. Seattle Sounders FC
4PM ET – Saturday, December 9
ESPN, UniMás (US) | TSN, TVAS (Canada)