MLS CUP BREAKDOWN
Seattle Sounders FC (14-9-11) at Toronto Reds FC (20-5-9)
1 p.m. PST Saturday, BMO Field, Toronto
TV: ESPN. Radio: 97.3-FM, 1360-AM (Spanish)
THREE STORY LINES
Revenge: Toronto FC players stood and watched Seattle celebrate its wild MLS Cup victory in a shootout (5-4 penalty kicks) in their own stadium, and on their own field last December. Their response? All the Reds did was put together one of the finest seasons in MLS history in 2017, claiming the Canadian Championship and Supporters’ Shield. But nothing will be complete without avenging that crushing defeat in the rematch Saturday.
Playing the Deuce. Even though Clint Dempsey received a championship ring as a member of Seattle’s MLS Cup-winning squad, it just doesn’t feel right. He never saw the field in last year’s title match because of an irregular heartbeat that kept him sidelined the final three months of the season. Well, a motivated Dempsey is back, and has scored a league-high three goals already in these MLS playoffs.
History. The Sounders certainly know what is at stake Saturday – they could become the fourth team in MLS history to repeat as league champions, joining D.C. United (1996-97), Houston (2006-07) and the Los Angeles Galaxy (2011-12). But Seattle can take it a notch further, becoming just the first club to ever win back-to-back MLS Cups on the road.
May 3 at Seattle: Toronto 1, Seattle 0. Seattle saw its 11-match home unbeaten streak during the regular season come to an end as the undermanned Reds – they played without forward Sebastian Giovinco, midfielder Victor Vazquez, and defender Eriq Zavaleta – took advantage of Jozy Altidore’s 23rd-minute penalty kick goal as the match’s lone score.
SEATTLE SCOUTING REPORT
For all the talk about Dempsey’s return, Jordan Morris’ continued ascension and Nico Lodeiro’s creative playmaking, what gets lost in all of this is what coach Brian Schmetzer has accomplished in a short amount of time. He is just the second coach to ever take a club to back-to-back MLS Cups in his first two seasons, joining Bruce Arena. It has not been an easy repeat effort for Schmetzer and his team, either, surviving a slow start, injuries to Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso and Morris along the way. Yet, now in December, the Sounders are playing their best soccer on both ends. They have not allowed a goal in their past six playoff matches, dating back to 2016. And with Dempsey leading the way, their attack is as pinpoint as it has ever been. The question is, will they try and trade aggressive runs with Toronto, or play more conservatively?
TORONTO SCOUTING REPORT
Make no mistake, given what the Reds accomplished during the regular season with their nucleus of star power – forwards Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, and midfielder Michael Bradley – they are the favorite at home Saturday. Yet there is also an underlying feeling of uneasiness that Seattle could swipe another MLS Cup on their home field. After that title match loss, Toronto recognized it needed another playmaker in the middle, and acquired midfielder Victor Vazquez, who was once in the FC Barcelona youth system. Giovinco, Altidore and Vazquez were the best attacking trio in the league. The Reds scored 74 goals, second-most in league history. Toronto lost just one home match during the regular season, but did drop a 1-0 decision to the New York Red Bulls at BMO Field in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
REGULAR SEASON LEADERS
Seattle: Goals – Clint Dempsey 12, Will Bruin 11, Nico Lodeiro 7. Assists – Lodeiro 12, Joevin Jones 11, Dempsey 5. Goalkeeping – Stefan Frei, 13 wins, 13 shutouts, 84 saves, 1.09 GAA.
Toronto: Goals – Sebastian Giovinco 15, Jozy Altidore 15, Victor Vazquez 8. Assists – Vazquez 16, Giovinco 6, Altidore 6, Raheem Edwards 6. Goalkeeping – Alex Bono 19 wins, 10 shutouts, 72 saves, 1.10 GAA.
Seattle: D Brad Evans (back) and MF Osvaldo Alonso (quad) are out. MF/D Joevin Jones (hamstring) and F Jordan Morris (hamstring) are probable.
Toronto: F Jozy Altidore (ankle) is probable.
QUOTE TO NOTE
“We are going to prepare the team. We are going to have a good game plan in place. And we are going to come out and try and defend the (MLS) Cup. … The only thing that I will guarantee is that they will be ready, and put their best performance on the field, because they are all motivated.” – Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer
Todd Milles, staff writer