Tale of the tape: Toronto FC seeks redemption in MLS Cup rematch
Toronto FC has been looking for another shot at the MLS Cup after the heartbreaking loss a year ago to the Seattle Sounders in penalties.
That it just happens to be against those very same Sounders might be a bonus.
After a year in which Toronto set the league record in points (69) and a franchise record in goals (74), the Reds haven’t looked as dominant in the playoffs, but managed to fight their way into their second consecutive league final.
On the other hand, the Sounders steamrolled their way back into the championship game behind a pair of convincing series wins against the Vancouver Whitecaps and Houston Dynamo.
But there are some who thought the Sounders were undeserving of last year’s title as they registered no shots on goal and haven’t been as battle-tested as TFC.
All of that will be put to rest once the teams hit the pitch at BMO Field in Toronto on Saturday afternoon (4 p.m. ET).
TFC: Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco combined for 31 goals and 12 assists during the regular season but have been held to just two goals collectively in the post-season.
There are concerns about both players as Altidore is nursing an ankle injury while Giovinco hasn’t scored a goal outside of a free kick or penalty since August 27.
Sounders: Clint Dempsey and Will Bruin lead the Sounders’ attack, forming a nice partnership up front that has carried through into the playoffs.
Neither played in last year’s championships game but have been equally vital to Seattle’s success this season.
While Dempsey has played goal-scorer, Bruin has shown to be that and more since being acquired in the off-season from the Dynamo.
“Will Bruin has been in a really good run of form,’ Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said this week. “What you might not see are some of the details that he does being the first guy in our line of defence. Will does the dirty work to help the players behind him get ready and defend.”
TFC: The influence Michael Bradley has won’t necessarily be seen in the boxscore, but the ground he’s able to cover defensively and his ability to take care of the ball sets up the offence for success.
The fact that Toronto’s captain received the third-most MVP votes among MLS coaches and general managers speak volumes to the amount of respect Bradley receives.
Most interesting thing about the #MLS MVP voting for me was the fact Michael Bradley got 0.00 percent of the player vote but finished third in the voting among coaches and GMs. For me 3rd place was about right, definitely deserved consideration, but then again DMs rarely do: pic.twitter.com/mT2vjewMB4
TFC head coach Greg Vanney referred to the off-season acquisition of Victor Vazquez as “the piece” needed to take the next step. The Spaniard had 16 regular-season assists showing time and again his playmaking magic.
Sounders: Nicolas Lodeiro, whom Sounders’ goalkeeper Stefan Frei calls “our Victor,” pulls the strings in Seattle’s midfield, registering 12 assists this season.
The mid-season signing of former Barcelona academy product Victor Rodriquez adds another attacking threat, while Christian Roldan has emerged to solidify the midfield.
“His confidence, just being able to close people down — win 50-50 battles,” Dempsey said of Roldan. “His goal scoring is something he’s added to his game, so he’s becoming more of a double threat. He’s got a bright future.”
TFC: Justin Morrow has given Toronto’s offence another dimension with his ability to join the attack on the left side of the field.
The runner-up for MLS defender of the year added eight goals, including a hat trick to help Toronto clinch its first Supporters’ Shield in a 4-2 victory against the New York Red Bulls in October.
“As a wingback, to contribute the amount of goals that he contributed, to cover the amount of ground that he covered game in and game out was extraordinary,” Vanney said.
Chris Mavinga has settled in nicely as a centre back, allowing Morrow and fellow defender Stephen Beitashour to push further up the pitch while acting as a security blanket.
Sounders: Joevin Jones plays a Morrow-like role for the Sounders, but rather than scoring goals, he’s been a distributor, picking up 11 assists.
Seattle’s back line hasn’t allowed a goal this post-season thanks in part to the play of three-time MLS defender of the year Chad Marshall and teammate Roman Torres.
“Having a guy of his quality and size in front of you definitely helps,” Frei said of Torres. “He’s comfortable on the ball so that bodes well with the way we want to play out of the back. Chad Marshall is very similar … together, those two in the centre are two big presences who like to battle.
Frei and Alex Bono finished one-two in clean sheets with 13 and 10 respectively while the latter led MLS with 19 wins.
TFC: Bono ran away with the starting job after an injury to Clint Irwin in the home opener forced him into action.
“Since he’s stepped in, he grew leaps and bounds. He comes in every day and puts in a good work shift. He’s hungry to continue to improve. He’s confident but not overconfident — he knows the line there,” Moor says.
Sounders: Frei resurrected his career in Seattle winning 61 games over the past four seasons and his highlight reel save on Altidore in the 108th minute of last year’s MLS Cup remains a painful wound for TFC fans.
“I expect their fans to want to win with their team, just as much as I want to win with my team. I wish Toronto fans nothing but the best but in a game like this I want Seattle to win,” Frei says.