TORONTO, Ont.—Throughout Toronto FC’s MLS Cup Playoffs run, many players have stepped up in big moments to help the Reds get to Seattle.
Whether it be Richie Laryea drawing the penalty that led to Alejandro Pozuelo’s audacious Panenka, Nick DeLeon’s playoff magic, or Laurent Ciman starting over an injured Omar Gonzalez, experienced players have stepped up in critical moments to send TFC to the MLS Cup Final.
Experienced players always seem to step up in big games, and Sunday’s match will be the biggest of the year. If the Reds are to add another star to their jersey, there are many players who will need to play a key role.
Here are three players whose experience may be key for Toronto FC in Seattle.
Matches have turning points and moments where momentum shifts. Quentin Westberg’s penalty save in the 11th minute against Atlanta was the definition of a momentum shift.
Seeing Bradley controversially concede a penalty moments after the Reds had fallen behind 1-0 in just the fourth minute was the worst possible start for TFC Fans. Imagining the prospective collapse that we might have had to witness over the next 80 minutes quieted a lot of bars across Toronto (and the Cinesphere).
The sheer silence was matched only by the booming sounds scattered across Toronto as Westberg stopped Josef Martinez and gave TFC fans hope. Toronto FC stabilized shortly after, going on to eventually secure the victory and punch their ticket to the Final. The poise and confidence which TFC showed to finish off the match would not have been possible without Westberg’s composure.
If he can pair that composure with the point-blank saves he made against Wayne Rooney, Toronto FC will have a much better chance in the Cup Final in Seattle.
Michael Bradley has been through it all with TFC, and his experience from the two previous encounters with the Sounders in the MLS Cup Final will prove vital.
Bradley’s performance in the 2016 Cup Finals will be overshadowed by the vision of his penalty being saved by Sounders GK Stefan Frei before the Reds eventually went on to lose at the hands of a Roman Torres penalty — who may start for Seattle if he’s healthy enough.
Many forget Bradley’s wonderful performance over the first 120 minutes, preventing a Seattle offence that featured Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris — very similar to the one that the Sounders will field on Sunday — from finding the back of the net.
Toronto FC will need to once again rely on Bradley’s defensive prowess against a very strong Sounders offence. Even without a $6.5 million option on the line, Michael Bradley leaves everything out on the pitch and plays with his heart on his sleeve.
With recent criticism aimed at an underperforming USMNT, Bradley will have a lot to play for and I’m sure will want to prove a few US Soccer fans wrong.
This may be an odd choice because I think we’ll be watching Nick DeLeon on the bench for the first half of the final, but with his recent heroics in Atlanta, his appearance in the second half seems almost guaranteed.
I think it’s a question of when, not if. The when will depend largely on the play of Tsubasa Endoh, who we believe will start at right wing for the Reds. Endoh did struggle against Atlanta’s much quicker pressing midfield, and how comfortable he looks early on against Seattle will largely decide when we seen DeLeon on the pitch.
Yes, the goal in Atlanta was a miraculous and beautiful strike. But Nick DeLeon is so much more than that though. His ability to hold up the ball, maintain possession, and run at offence’s make him an incredibly valuable player, even if he’s not hitting screamers from outside of the box — which he is.
Look for him early if the link up play between Endoh, Pozuelo, and Benezet is not enough to establish possession in the attacking half early on.