mls cup

2017 MLS Cup Playoffs: the conference finals

It’s all said and done. The finalists from each Conference are known; it’s going to be a repeat of last year’s MLS Cup on so many levels. Again, the game will take place at BMO Field, where Toronto FC, victorious over the Columbus Crew SC, will face the Seattle Sounders FC, who comprehensively beat the Houston Dynamo over two legs. Tune in on Saturday, December 9 at 4pm, on TVA Sports and TSN. 

Toronto advances to second straight MLS Cup

It wasn’t pretty, but Toronto FC did what they had to do to advance.

Both teams started the game by flexing their offensive guns, adopting a similar formation with three centre-backs. Columbus very well knew that one goal at BMO Field would leave TFC with their backs against the wall.

Toronto was especially solid defensively for most of the game, although Columbus stretched them out at times, particularly in the 21st minute. A quality through pass from Federico Higuaín found Ola Kamara behind the defense, who immediately fed the ball to Justin Meram, out left. Alone in front of the goalkeeper, Meram’s first touch left much to be desired, and the eventual opportunity was stifled easily by TFC ‘keeper Alex Bono.

MLS Coach of the Year Greg Vanney had a very specific game plan, adopting a calculated approach to beating Columbus, focused on good defense and deadly counter-attacking football, while remembering the lessons learned from the 12-goal thriller we saw in last year’s Eastern Conference Final between the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC.

The only goal of the series came off a passing play between Toronto’s big three. Sebastian Giovinco received the ball from Alex Bono off a goal-kick, controlled it, evaded a few defenders, and fed Vazquez on the top of the box, who immediately sent Altidore on the run. As expected, Altidore would finish with class, giving the Crew a taste of what they had escaped in the first game.

Columbus on their end did a good job of creating offense, but lacked the finishing touch to break down the Canadian side, with many missed opportunities through two legs. They also did a good job of stifling Toronto’s top three, but as is often the case with quality players, they make you pay the smallest of mistakes. 

Impressive Sounders

With a comfortable two-goal cushion after the first leg in Texas, the Seattle Sounders FC returned back home to their CenturyLink Field fortress. A little over 45,000 spectators were witness to a dominant performance from the home side that allowed them to once again find themselves in the final match of the MLS season.

Víctor Rodríguez and Will Bruin both put out a strong performance, each netting once and earning an assist as well, while veteran Clint Demspey continued to show his importance for Seattle by scoring his team’s second goal, consequently putting an end to any hope of a Dynamo comeback. Some will say that Houston dug its own grave, when in the 66th minute Tomás Martínez was shown a straight red card for a violent shove to Jordy Delem’s head.

The Sounders are confident, decisive offensively, solid in their own zone, and Stefan Frei is in full control between the sticks. Toronto FC has a lot of work at hand to make sure the MLS Cup doesn’t go to Seattle for a second straight year.

Eastern Conference
Toronto FC (1) v. Columbus Crew SC (5)

1st leg: 0-0 draw at MAPFRE Stadium, in Columbus.
2nd leg: 1-0 win by Toronto FC at BMO Field, in Toronto

Western Conference
Houston Dynamo (4) v. Seattle Sounders FC (2)

1st leg: 2-0 win by Seattle Sounders FC at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston. 
2nd leg: 3-0 win by Seattle Sounders FC at Century Link Field