For the third time in 4 years, Toronto and Seattle will battle for the MLS Cup championship this Sunday. The difference this time, Seattle will be the ones hosting the MLS’ biggest match.
In the two previous matches, which took place in 2016 and ’17, the two teams split time with the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy. Seattle won the first meeting on penalties, while Toronto got their revenge the following year with a 2-0 win in regulation. The two squads seemed to be destined to meet for a third time, to break the “tie”.
The paths that led to this Cup Final were vastly different for Seattle and Toronto.
How We Got Here:
For Toronto, their season was nearly another wash. After starting the season with 5 wins in their first 8 MLS matches, the team went winless in the following 8. Toronto looked like a team that was on the outside looking in when it came to the MLS playoffs, let alone the MLS Cup. But, the team found their groove as the season progressed and thanks to some favorable results from other clubs, found themselves as the East 4 seed as the playoffs began.
Entering the playoffs Toronto was down their top striker in Jozy Altidore, who suffered an injury at the end of the regular season. Some would have written them off with that fact, but Toronto ended up playing their best football of the season once the playoffs began. In their only home playoff match, they took down D.C. United and Wayne Rooney 5-1. They then went on the road and took down the top two seeds in the East in back-to-back weeks, NYCFC 2-1 and Atlanta 2-1. The team is riding a wave that seems to be all momentum heading into Sunday.
The Sounders had a much different season. A team that is used to highs and lows, actually never found themselves below the playoff line at any point during the season. In typical Seattle fashion, they got two key wins at the end of the regular season that locked up the West 2nd seed for them. That was huge, as it made sure they would host the first two rounds at home.
First up was FC Dallas. A match that took everything the Sounders had, saw them get the 4-3 win. Next was Real Salt Lake, who Seattle shutout 2-0. The big West showdown was then set between the new age LAFC and old school Sounders. The experience was the difference as Rave Green got the 3-1 win at Banc of California Stadium.
The stage was set for a championship trilogy.
These two teams only met once during the regular season with Seattle coming away with the 3-2 win at home. But considering that game was all the way back in April, not much stock can be held on that result.
On paper, these teams are very similar. Both are well run organizations that rely on veterans to lead the way. The teams have the experience of having their cores winning big games together, while adding new talent to help get them to the top of the mountain again.
With that being said, Seattle has the better of the two rosters when it comes to form and pure talent. Jordan Morris, who is in the best form of his career, has seemed to be unstoppable of late. Stefan Frei is arguably one of the best goalkeepers in all of MLS, and is known for big moments. Nicolás Lodeiro has been the MVP of Seattle since he came over in 2016. Raúl Ruidíaz is arguably the best player between both squads. Not too mention players like Torres, Roldan, Kee-hee, Svensson and Smith. Seattle will need contributions from all in order to win their second Cup.
Toronto has plenty of talent of their own and like Seattle, they have been here before. Where Toronto is hurt, is the likely absence of Jozy Altidore. Their star striker was quoted saying “I’ll need a small miracle to play..”, and if that is the case they are at a disadvantage. Toronto still has Michael Bradley solidifying the midfield, but he isn’t the player he once was. Erickson Gallardo will more than likely be the forward for the team but isn’t a typical number 9 player. He is what they call a “false 9” meaning he will fall back to midfield more than he will play forward like Ruidíaz. He is great at creating opportunities but will have a struggle getting past Seattle’s backline. Alejandro Pozuelo, who has taken over for Sebastian Giovinco, is a star in the making and will be key for them in the matchup. He and Bradley will have to hold down the middle of the pitch.
70,000 plus will be inside CenturyLink field when these two teams clash. It will more than likely be the most attended sporting event in the stadium’s history and the second-largest crowd for an MLS Cup Final. Those fans will be expecting a win, but will they get it from their home team?
Both teams are coming off runs that very few outside of their own fanbases saw coming. Both teams have been in big matches before. Both teams have great coaching and stars that can make a difference in the matter of a second.
One team has an advantage though.
Seattle will be at home in front of a crowd that has never been seen before in the Pacific Northwest. They have the motivation of the 2017 loss to this same Toronto team and a roster that is healthier and in better overall form.
The Sounders will win this match, it will not come easily by any means though. The two clubs will feel each other out for much of the opening 45, with few great chances coming early. When the second half comes around, Seattle’s home-field advantage will be more prevalent. With the crowd behind them, the Sounders will score two second-half goals to win. Securing their second MLS Cup title in front of 70,000 Seattleites.