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Toronto FC produce an MLS Cup final win as dominant as their season

It’s almost never as perfect as this.

2017 MLS Cup - Seattle Sounders v Toronto FC Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

If you didn’t feel even a twinge of doubt this week - that there was a chance, on the biggest stage, everything was going to blow up in Toronto FC’s faces - you’re either not human or you’re Michael Bradley.

“All week, all I read was: the pressure’s on Toronto,” Bradley said after BMO Field had blown up in a very different way. “Toronto’s tight, Seattle’s loose. On and on and on.

“On the biggest night, with everything on the line... to play the way that we did, to go after it the way that we did, to dominate the way that we did - I'm so proud of our team.”

It almost never works out as perfectly as this.

It is so, so rare for a team to not only be so clearly a class above but to then go on to win everything on offer, without slipping up, sealing the deal with a performance as overwhelming as Toronto’s was in this MLS Cup final.

Everything fell in their favour. Well, nearly everything: if not for another remarkable big-game display by Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei, this game would have been over long before Victor Vazquez tapped in the second goal in added time.

In a way, though, the tension built by Frei’s saves only served to make Jozy Altidore’s opening goal taste even sweeter to the 30,000 fans that erupted in celebration.

“It’s my job,” Altidore said of his most important goal yet (there has been a few).

Altidore played an intelligent game, realizing that he would be of more value to his team if he had gas in the tank when it mattered than if he wore down his injured ankle by chasing and fighting for every ball.

MLS: MLS CUP-Seattle Sounders vs Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

He was quick enough out of the blocks to ensure Joevin Jones did not catch him when he latched on to Sebastian Giovinco’s through ball, but this was a goal that highlighted his underrated technique and movement more than his athletic prowess.

And as for Giovinco? He banished the memory of 2016 despite being thwarted by Frei once again.

“Hats off to him, he was superb,” Altidore said. “In terms of probing, looking for spaces, being difficult to play against... the spaces open up.”

Altidore could not run the channels, so Giovinco did instead. Toronto’s control of this game was founded on the way he drifted behind Jones and Kelvin Leerdam early on, forcing them to curb their attacking instincts and, as a result, leaving the Sounders devoid of width in attack.

Which brings us to Greg Vanney’s game plan.

The widespread reaction when the lineups - and Toronto’s return to a 4-4-2 diamond - were revealed was concern as to whether or not Vanney was giving away the initiative by abandoning his team’s primary system in a game of such magnitude.

Tactically, many wondered how Toronto would get to grips with Jones and Leerdam without wing-backs or wide midfielders to greet them.

But it was a trap. Vanney turned those overlapping full-backs, normally one of Seattle’s greatest strengths, into a problem they never solved. Jones and Leerdam leapt into the space in front of them and Toronto repeatedly routed attacks into the areas they had vacated.

“By having the diamond, the four midfielders and active forwards, we knew we could really crowd up the space and make it really difficult for them, which would isolate their outside backs on the wings,” Vanney said.

At the base of that diamond there is little left to say about Bradley, who made a game-high six tackles and four interceptions and was as good as he was in last year’s final - only this time with a happy ending.

MLS: MLS CUP-Seattle Sounders vs Toronto FC Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

“He stifled them - before they even looked he was there,” Altidore said. “I was telling the guys on the bench - he was unbelievable. His bald head was everywhere, he was all over the field.

“It’s crazy, because you come to expect that, that flawless performance. It was another one for the books for him, a game where he covered so much ground, he got the team out of trouble.

“It’s Michael Bradley. It’s what we’ve come to expect.”

In front of him... well, has Jonathan Osorio ever come off a field - to a standing ovation no less - feeling as good about his performance as that?

“No, probably not,” he said, unable to hold back his smile. “And also, a lot of people have come up to me and told me how good I played or whatever.

“Honestly, I don’t even care how good I played today. I’m just so glad we’re champions.”

Osorio has turned his season around over the past couple of months, but this was his best outing yet by a long way. He completed 95.7% of his passes - 96.8% in the opposition half! - and made four tackles. His ability to receive the ball on the half-turn and push it forwards was essential.

Marky Delgado has had a much tougher time than Osorio in the playoffs, and started this game with a turnover that sprung Seattle’s first attack. It turned out to be a rare error and a rare Sounders break.

Only Vazquez - who we take for granted at this point - played more passes in the opposition half, and Delgado completed 87.5% of his 40. He, too, chipped in with four tackles, matched Bradley’s four interceptions and even ripped a 30-yard shot that nearly caught Frei off-guard.

MLS: MLS CUP-Seattle Sounders vs Toronto FC Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

You could go through the entire team like this, player by player.

Schmetzer admitted to trying to get the Sounders’ favoured left-hand side in motion after half-time, but Steven Beitashour controlled the flank. When Beitashour was further upfield, either Delgado dropped in or Drew Moor stepped across to sweep up without fail.

It was the kind of night on which even Bradley - a believer in “hard work and preparation and [making] your own luck” - started to talk about fate.

He told a story of how on Friday, for TFC’s final training session before the game, an Uber had taken him down the 427 and on to the Gardiner to get to BMO Field. He had not taken that route to the venue he now calls home since his very first day in the city in 2014, and it left him feeling like he had come full circle.

“When Jozy scored, I knew that was it,” Bradley said, “and then when Armando [Cooper] dribbled the goalkeeper and off the post, and then Victor...

“It was indescribable.”