We all know the narrative heading into this one. Toronto FC visit the Seattle Sounders this Saturday, with their eyes on some MLS Cup revenge. After going 3-0 on their home stand, the Reds will be looking to win their fourth consecutive game as they chase first place in the Eastern Conference.
The defending Penalty Shootout Cup champions will be a stingy road assignment for TFC, despite winning just two of their eight games so far. This is only their fourth home game of 2017, in a building they have not yet lost in this season. Seattle are 2-4-2 so far, and 1-0-2 at CenturyLink Field. They’re coming into this game on the back of a tough 3-3 home draw with the New England Revolution, where they came back from a 3-0 deficit with a trio of goals in the last 15 minutes.
Seattle’s lineup features a lot of highly skilled players, particularly in Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris, who will be very tough for TFC’s back line to deal with. The Sounders are a real threat on the wings, with left back Joevin Jones second in MLS with five assists.
Also, Clint Dempsey is truly back in the equation this year for the Sounders. He has three goals so far, and has added yet another spark to their talented attack.
Here are three important things to keep an eye on this weekend.
1. 90-minute effort
The past three games, TFC have started quickly and jumped to an early lead. Scoring in the 28th minute against Chicago, the 16th against Houston and the ninth against Orlando gave them the advantage of putting pressure on the opposition. That said, particularly in the last two, Toronto have started to show signs of settling into bad habits with the lead.
Against Houston, TFC’s second half was a pretty slow, bunkered affair. On Wednesday against Orlando, the end of the game was nothing short of sloppy, with the Reds lucky to hold on to their slim lead. An early goal in Seattle would certainly be ideal, getting the CenturyLink crowd out of it, but the Reds can’t sit back and coast like they seemed to the last couple of games.
Toronto won’t likely be able to exploit the Sounders along the wings in the same way they did against Orlando. They, too, have a strong presence out wide, with players like Lodeiro able to set up on the flanks and cut to the inside. Seattle are more likely to be able to finish their chances, so TFC will have to be vigilant in defence.
2. Turf wars
The Reds have played on turf once this season, beating the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0 at BC Place. They won that one without noted turf detractor Sebastian Giovinco, and will have to do it again here.
The ball will roll a little differently after three smooth games on BMO Field’s grass, so that’s an immediate advantage for Seattle. It’ll likely slow things down a bit, especially for players like Raheem Edwards, who has been very quick down the wing in his past few appearances.
It’ll be a good day when turf in MLS is a thing of the past, but until then it’s a factor that teams like TFC will have to deal with. Call it home field advantage for Seattle; they’re far more used to playing on the synthetic surface. That said, the Reds fared well against Vancouver, so they’re certainly not incapable of adapting their game.
3. No reminder needed
This Saturday’s game has been marked on the calendars of Toronto FC fans since the 2017 schedule was released. Just under five months after the heartbreaking loss at BMO Field to Seattle, the Reds now have a chance to make some progress in healing their MLS Cup wounds.
As much as it’ll hurt to see that Stefan Frei save repeated over and over on TV, and as cathartic as it would be to see TFC beat Seattle in their own building, the narrative extends far beyond the actual importance of this match. Yes, it’ll be emotional, particularly for the players who were there in December, but Greg Vanney made his priorities clear by fielding a full-strength lineup on Wednesday against Orlando.
TFC have a lot of games to play this month, and quite frankly if there has to be one off game, this would be the ideal opportunity. As much as it hurts, the Reds play in Columbus on Wednesday, and at home the next Saturday against Minnesota United. Three points from both of those games would be much more beneficial to Vanney’s side than a win in Seattle.
We won’t be getting the same starting XI from the past few games. Of course, TFC’s players will be gunning hard to win at CenturyLink Field, but don’t be too upset if they don’t. Besides, they won’t have a chance to truly avenge MLS Cup until December.