Familiar foes face off at CenturyLink Field
Let’s be honest here; this isn’t the MLS Cup final we were expecting. No record-breaking LAFC or MVP Carlos Vela, who were shockingly eliminated at the hands of Raul Ruidiaz and the Seattle Sounders FC at Banc of California Stadium, and no Atlanta United, the defending champions who were eliminated at Mercedes-Benz Stadium thanks to a fantastic strike from Nick De Leon.
Both teams have faced a tough road to get to this final: Toronto had to go through two cup favourites in New York City FC and Atlanta United. A betting man would have told you that Greg Vanney’s men didn’t have a chance, playing away from home and without Designated Player Jozy Altidore. But most people failed to take into account one crucial factor: Toronto’s form. They’ve lost just one game in their last 16 outings, that loss coming to the Montreal Impact in the first leg of the Canadian Championship final.
Not one team in MLS has been better than the Ontario representatives over the second half of the season, and Toronto has used that form to propel them in the postseason. Needless to say, their midseason additions definitely helped provide depth to an already solid roster, but one man in particular has made the biggest difference: Alejandro Pozuelo.
Toronto FC knew it had a gaping hole to replace when Sebastian Giovinco announced his departure, but none thought the Spaniard would mould into the position so perfectly. With him playing like this, and with two goals in the postseason, there’s no reason Toronto can’t make it two Cups in three years.
Seattle’s path to the final was no easier. It included two wild games against Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas that could’ve gone either way in the end, which culminated in a Western Conference final showdown against a team that could apparently do no wrong: LAFC. The Los Angeles representatives had broken a handful of records en route to a Supporters’ Shield, and there was no stopping league MVP Carlos Vela, who had helped dismantle the Los Angeles Galaxy just a few days prior.
But Seattle executed its game plan to perfection, taking the game to the hosts and netting a few goals before they even realized what had happened. Of course, the clinic put on by Raul Ruidiaz and Nicolas Lodeiro in particular helped too.
Needless to say, you can never underestimate the Sounders. They know the playoffs better than any other team in the league, having qualified to the fall tournament in 11 straight seasons.
It’s difficult to say who has the edge here. Seattle will be playing at CenturyLink Field, in front of 70,000 fans, most of whom will probably be representing their club’s green and blue colours. Toronto, on the other hand, just doesn’t seem like it can lose at the moment.
And for both clubs, and extra source of motivation can be found in recent history: this will be the third time these teams face each other in MLS Cup in four years, and after wins on each side, this will mark the perfect ending to this epic trilogy.
Unless they’re back again next year.