Neither team was expected to be back here in 2019, yet here we are.
Last Wednesday in Atlanta, TFC grinded out a 2-1 victory on the road courtesy of a 78th minute stunner from substitute Nick DeLeon.
Meanwhile, out West, the Sounders shocked Carlos Vela and co. as the 2016 MLS Champions cruised to a 3-1 victory away to a powerhouse LAFC side thanks to a brace from Raul Ruidiaz.
As a result, it’s round three between two familiar foes this Sunday at CenturyLink Field with Major League Soccer supremacy on the line.
Early in 2019, these two sides looked to be on two very different trajectories. Seattle begun the regular season losing just one of their first 13 matches — an away loss to LAFC, while as most of the Reds’ faithful will remember, the club struggled to find an identity early on, which in part led to an eight-game stretch between early May and late June where TFC failed to pick up a victory.
Following their hot start, Seattle was inconsistent throughout the rest of the regular season, failing to string together three consecutive wins in their final 20 matches. Despite this, the Sounders 16-10-8 record was good enough for 2nd place in the Western Conference. Of the 52 goals they scored in the regular season, over half of them came from the dual threat of winger Jordan Morris (13 goals) and talisman Raul Ruidiaz (14 goals).
While both sides had their ups and downs in 2019, TFC and Seattle both got hot at the right time. Dating back to the regular season, Toronto is undefeated in thirteen straight matches, including eight straight without a loss away from home. Conversely, Seattle have won seven straight on their own turf, with their last home loss coming back on August 4. Furthermore, through three playoff games respectively, each side has scored nine goals apiece.
The lone meeting between the two clubs came way back on April 13 when Seattle defeated TFC by a 3-2 scoreline at CenturyLink Field. Since that encounter almost seven months ago, there has been plenty of change within the squad for both teams.
For Seattle, center-half Chad Marshall retired midway through the season. As a three time MLS defender of the year, Marshall’s departure was a big adjustment for the Sounders. In addition, having been injured back in April, Raul Ruidiaz was unable to feature against the Reds last time out. Coming off a brace against LAFC in the Western conference final, his presence in the Sounders XI will certainly be noted by Greg Vanney and his defenders.
For Toronto, the match against Seattle back in April marked a first career MLS start for Reds keeper Quentin Westberg—who has grown immensely since. In addition, TFC had yet to acquire TAM winger Nicolas Benezet, while the emergence of Tsubasa Endoh and Richie Laryea was still in its infancy. Considering the lack of experience for Westberg and the need for width at this stage of the season, the TFC faithful shouldn’t be dwelling on a result way back when during the #VanneyOut era.
Ahead of Sunday’s final, TFC Captain Michael Bradley addressed the media regarding both the familiarity of the two sides on this stage as well as the ways in which this final will be different from the previous two.
“It’s obviously the same opponent,” said Bradley on Thursday. “Their team has changed a little bit, and so has ours. We feel like we have a pretty good grip on them, what makes them good, who makes them good... I’m sure they feel in a similar way about us.”
As has been the theme of these playoffs for TFC, there remains uncertainty regarding the status of striker Jozy Altidore. While Altidore suggested earlier this week it would take a miracle for him to play a part in Sunday’s final, Seattle are expecting the American no. 9 to feature to some extent.
Defender Omar Gonzalez is once again fit and ready to feature should Greg Vanney require his services. With Laurent Ciman doing a job and then some for Vanney in Atlanta, its unclear whether the Reds boss will elect to take the Belgian out of the XI for Sunday’s final.
For Seattle, veteran defender Roman Torres had been struggling with a hamstring injury of late. Based on recent training sessions, the Sounders CB is reportedly expected to start the final.
Of note at Sounders training: Roman Torres and Kim Kee-Hee are training with the presumed starters in 11 vs. 11 work. Xavier Arreaga with the second-team.— Sam Stejskal (@samstejskal) November 7, 2019
For the third straight match, Toronto FC are on the road and the odds-makers have them as heavy underdogs heading into the final. For TFC and their supporters, the hope will be to defy the odds and make it three straight wins on the road in the postseason.
Besides the venue change, it’s same old, same old for Seattle and Toronto. With the MLS Cup Final head-to-head matchup tied at one apiece, the prospect of taking home hardware against an old friend on Sunday should make for a cracking final come Sunday.
- Reds’ captain Michael Bradley will play in his 200th competitive match for Toronto FC in Sunday’s final. With his contract up in the off-season, an MLS Cup for TFC would reportedly automatically trigger a one-year $6.5 million USD extension.
- Sounders’ win against TFC in the 2016 final came in Penalty kicks, with Seattle failing to register a shot on goal through 120 minutes of open play.
- The winner of Sunday’s final will become the sixth team in MLS history to win multiple MLS Cups.