With ticket punched to MLS Cup Final, Sounders sit and wait to find out Eastern Conference opponent

It’s been quite the few days for the Western Conference champion Seattle Sounders.

Hours after celebrating on the Colorado Rapids’ field following a 1-0 win that put Seattle in the MLS Cup Final for the first time, the Sounders touched down at home. There to greet them were a horde of jubilant fans, who started the party for a two-week spell of preparation for the final match of the year. It’ll be a nervy, exciting experience.

But the Sounders still don’t know who they’ll be facing. And where they’ll be playing the game. That gets decided on Wednesday.

While the Sounders put a bow on the Western Conference, two Canadian Eastern Conference rivals were deep in preparation for the same stage. A week after playing a raucous first leg in the vast expanse of the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC are about to decide the second and final team to snag a spot in the MLS Cup Final.

What happens on Wednesday obviously affects the Sounders directly, but which eventuality looks better for Seattle on paper? A TFC reversal or a Montreal series win?

For one, the fact that TFC is even in the discussion is something of a minor miracle. Montreal held a 3-0 lead at one point in the first leg before surrendering two soft goals late in the match. And those matter because they count as tiebreakers considering they were away goals. With its well-funded attack bearing down on Montreal’s aging defensive framework in the friendly confines of BMO Field, an early TFC goal might be Montreal’s undoing.

In any case, the series is essentially a toss-up heading into Wednesday. And the Sounders will most likely be rooting for Montreal.

The Impact are of course a dangerous team, all things considered. With a bruising back line, a no-nonsense midfield and an attack that can now afford to bring Didier Drogba off the bench, there’s nothing particularly easy about breaking down Montreal. But consider that TFC’s playoff form - until the first Eastern Conference Championship leg - had been nigh unbeatable, and facing down in-form strikers Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore isn’t a comforting thought.

But the real benefit is in what happens if Montreal wins the series. In that case, the Sounders would have the somewhat improbable honor of hosting its first-ever MLS Cup Final. There were three teams in the Eastern Conference playoff field who would’ve hosted over Seattle by virtue of their regular season point totals. One of those is TFC, but not Montreal.

Hosting of course ups the odds of winning dramatically. Dating back to the start of the league, teams that’ve hosted an MLS Cup Final are 5-2, even though the most recent example in 2015 witnessed Crew SC losing at home to Portland. Anything can happen, of course, but hosting a game of this magnitude would be a boon not only to the team’s chances, but to the city as well. It’s hard to imagine a better place to have it anywhere in the country.

First, though, Montreal and TFC have to settle their differences on the field. And it certainly looks as though TFC has an inside track even down a goal in the aggregate.

The primary reason is the indomitable Giovinco. The diminutive forward is more slithery in traffic than perhaps any player in league history, and since joining the league he has 39 goals and 31 assists. As much as he does in chance conversion, he’s also incredibly valuable as an attacking cattle prod, pulling TFC’s bombing wingbacks into the run of play in coach Greg Vanney’s well-attuned 3-5-2 formation. In fact, Giovinco’s only played in one game since the start of October in which he didn’t register at least one goal or assist. And TFC won it 2-0, anyway.

Montreal is considerably more shelled up than TFC at the back. Its back line, helmed by the implacable Laurent Ciman, is historically resolute this time of year, and coach Mauro Biello has made good use of players reaching the end of their careers (Patrice Bernier), journeymen (Dominic Oduro), and loanees (Matteo Mancosu). When you look at how he’s fit in a lot of disparate pieces, Biello’s coaching job late in the year belongs in the pantheon with the greats.

Expect Montreal to attempt to play a reactive game while TFC seeks an important first goal. Though it’ll no doubt attempt to bag a knockout away goal, Montreal will advance if the game finishes scoreless. TFC, meanwhile, will no doubt throw the kitchen sink at the Impact back line. They need goals, and they’re engineered to get them.

However it shakes out, the Sounders will be patiently watching with their ticket to the MLS Cup Final already punched. Now it’s time to find out who they’ll face.



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