Toronto FC is a familiar foe for the Seattle Sounders in MLS Cup.
The two clubs, which met in the championship match back in 2016 and 2017, will wrap-up their epic trilogy on Sunday at CenturyLink Field (12:00 p.m. PT; ABC, Univision, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM).
It hasn’t always been for the Seattle Sounders this season. The road to the club’s third MLS Cup appearance included plenty of hardship, with key players missing portions of the regular season through injuries and international call-ups. Even in the postseason, the Sounders passed important litmus tests in different ways against challenging opposition in FC Dallas, Real Salt Lake and LAFC.
Although the team didn’t always play to the best of its abilities, their knack for grinding out points while mired in adversity has left the team battle-tested entering the championship match.
“Being able to end up second in our conference [in the regular season], being able to win the Western Conference and then have the final here means a lot to us,” midfielder Gustav Svensson said on Wednesday. “It shows that we are a team to reckon with. And I think it shows we have a lot of players who will never give up. It doesn’t matter how we play or who we play.”
One trend that has continued into the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs is the team’s ability to control matches and pick up wins while employing different tactical setups. A possession-heavy team that typically seeks to dominate the ball, the Sounders have proven they can absorb pressure and be lethal in transition as well.
“What we do best is counter-attack,” said defender Brad Smith. “We have great speed out wide. We’ve got great passers of the ball in the middle. That’s what we’ve used to our advantage.”
Added General Manager Garth Lagerwey: “Now all of a sudden we can score in a bunch of different ways. Jordan [Morris] can strike fear even from a spacing perspective. That creates more room for Nico [Lodeiro] to operate. That creates more room for Raúl [Ruidíaz] to operate. The work that Raúl has put in the last couple of months and the playoffs specifically is absolutely amazing.”
The numbers back up Lagerwey’s assertion. In just three Audi MLS Cup Playoffs matches, Seattle’s attacking quartet of Joevin Jones, Morris, Lodeiro and Ruidíaz have combined for eight goals and ten assists. More importantly, the diversity of each goals has demonstrated that Sounders can be dangerous in possession, transition and on set pieces.
Seattle’s multi-faceted attack could be the decisive factor against a Toronto FC side coached by Greg Vanney, who’s developed a reputation for throwing tactical curveballs in big games. Further increasing the shroud of mystery around the visitors is the unknown status of star forward Jozy Altidore, who missed all three of TFC’s previous postseason fixtures through injury.
Altidore, who notched 11 goals and seven assists from 22 regular season appearances, has been replaced by attacking midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo operating as a False Nine.
“We’re not assuming anything,” said Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “We’re preparing our team to play how we want to play. The game will unfold, and we’ll make adjustments based on what they do.”
How Seattle and Toronto approach the game remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: the Seattle Sounders will be ready.