Both teams, two of the most well-supported clubs in MLS, are looking for their first Cup. Indeed, Toronto's looking for the first North American sports championship for a Canadian team since 1993. But enough about all that. For maybe the first time in club history, TFC has had ample media coverage this week, so all these dramatic storylines have been shoved down the city's throat.
There is, of course, a game to be played. A hell of a game it'll be, too. What more could MLS have asked for (don't say a New York team)? This game has international stars in Sebastian Giovinco and Nicolas Lodeiro, a strong USMNT contingent in Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Jordan Morris, and perhaps the most electric stadium atmosphere the league has ever seen.
As I wrote earlier this week, both teams have their advantages in different areas of the pitch. TFC has excellent finishing power in Giovinco and Altidore, with a talented attacking midfield. Seattle has a great centre-back pairing, as well as one of the league's best tacklers in Cristian Roldan, and they too have top-end attacking talent in Lodeiro and Morris. Both team has had a difficult road to the final, and both team very much deserves to be here.
Toronto and Seattle have only played once this season, a 1-1 draw at BMO Field where Morris equalized just seconds after Jordan Hamilton gave TFC the lead.
Without further ado, let's take a look at why either team could win this thing.
Why Seattle Could Win
The Sounders match up extremely well against TFC in most areas of the pitch. Their centre-back pairing of Roman Torres and Chad Marshall have been solid all year, and will be tonight. Marshall is very capable in the air, and Torres could be very frustrating for Giovinco. In front of them, as I just mentioned, Roldan has everything necessary to shut down Toronto's speed from Armando Cooper and Justin Morrow.
TFC won't be able to take as many risks as they might like in their own attacking third, since any free kick within 35 yards of goal is in Nicolas Lodeiro's range. Seattle have scored 10 goals from set-pieces this year, and Jordan Morris has made a name for himself by being aggressive in the box in these situations.
Finally, with Toronto expected to play three at the back, they'll be a little exposed if Lodeiro can send Morris behind them. Defenders like Steven Beitashour and Nick Hagglund are exploitable, and it's not inconceivable that a top-class player like Lodeiro can tear them apart.
That said, Seattle will probably have to act early in this one. A first half goal, or some extremely frustrating defence, would take the crowd out of it, which has to be one of the keys to this game for them. TFC have leveraged the home support into late emotional victories against NYC and Montreal, and winning this game early would go a long way toward disappointing a lot of people at BMO Field.
Seattle's comeback story this season has been incredible. Early in the summer they were well out of the playoff picture, but that was before Lodeiro came to town, and before Brian Schmetzer took over as head coach. They've gone through some excellent teams to get to this point, including a defensively rigid Colorado Rapids team. The Sounders will be an exciting matchup for TFC.
Why Toronto Could Win
Perhaps the most incredible thing about TFC's victory over Montreal is that Sebastian Giovinco didn't score a single goal in either leg. Granted, he did have a hand in several, playing a nice pass over to Altidore for the first goal at the Stade Olympique, and the Impact defence was stuck to him like glue, but it's still impressive that the Reds scored seven goals without him contributing one.
As such, it would stand to reason that Giovinco is due for a big game. He seems to relish in the spotlight for TFC, and so far he's scored when needed. He matches up well with Chad Marshall, as someone whose technical proficiency is primarily on the ground. He should be well able to play the ball through to Jozy Altidore, whose strength in the box is second to none in MLS.
Altidore was really TFC's hero in the conference final. He's scored in every playoff game so far, and might just be in the best form of his career. He has the power to break through Seattle's defence, particularly Roman Torres, so if TFC's midfield can get the ball through Cristian Roldan then the two DP forwards will be in business. Altidore is on fire, and next to a goal-hungry Giovinco, there isn't a more fearsome tandem in North American soccer.
If that doesn't work, and Toronto needs a goal late, then Tosaint Ricketts can come in. With his pace, he's brought a new life to every game he's entered, and his extra time heroics last Wednesday earned him bona fide supersub status.
Either team could conceivably win this. In the history of MLS Cup, the higher-seeded team (in this case Toronto) has won ten times, and the lower-seeded team has won ten. In the five years the game's been held at the home venue of the higher-ranked team, the home team has won four (with Portland winning in Columbus last year).
All in all, it's going to be an incredible night for soccer, especially in Canada. I truly cannot believe that Toronto FC are about to play for the MLS Cup. It's been an amazing season, and both teams have fought incredibly hard to get here. Whatever happens, the true winner tomorrow night will be the sport.
Projected Starting XI: