TORONTO FC v. SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC MLS Cup Final – Princes’ Boulevard, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Pre-Match Analysis by Charles Therrell (DISK DOKTOR)

Greetings to my brothers and sisters in Green. It’s true what they say:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

We took that first step in March of this year, and it was a wobbly one. But true to Sounders FC form, we eventually roared back into a proper shape, and General Manager, Garth Lagerwey provided some much-needed reinforcements to replace the veterans waived after our maiden 2016 MLS Cup title. 10 Months and 39 matches later we arrive in the rarefied atmosphere of the 2017 MLS Cup Final. Again! Against our familiar rivals from a year ago! In the same venue! In the words of the immortal Yogi Berra:

“It’s Deja voux all over again.”

That’s right; it’s time for our lads to line up in the bitter chill at Princes’ Boulevard near the shores of Lake Ontario. Then watch the captains trade commemorative pennants with each other to mark the occasion. Watch them shake hands with the officials, and then get on to the gritty business of winning the most coveted trophy in North American domestic football. Which is weird actually, if you think about it. The Football League Cup is the trophy that can be done without in England, yet our league cup – the MLS Cup is the one most sought after and best publicised on this side of the pond. Go figure. At any rate, it’s a very, very, very, very shiny tin pot, and we wants it. Don’t we just? ECS and it’s member groups stand ready, all hands to action stations. Keep each other warm in the stands and roar like lions, sing like drunken pirates and release the fierce joy in your hearts into the wilds of Ontario that it might echo there forever. Those of our Green Family that couldn’t or didn’t make the voyage north, form rank. File into each other’s houses and our pubs for viewing parties. It’s time for us once again, in the name of our club and the city of Seattle, to generate a beautiful and towering noise such as never been heard on Earth or it’s heavens. A noise so powerful and so massive that it threatens to tear the fabric of reality itself. Be kind, be jovial, be heard. Be the best expression of what makes the city of Seattle, and our football club, so extraordinary. Please join with me before kick-off in the auld toast: TO THE SEATTLE SOUNDERS FOOTBALL CLUB…AND VICTORY!!!

Shiny…sooooo shiny…must…have.

The Good News
We’re a better team than last years’ MLS Cup champions who couldn’t manage a single shot on frame against Toronto FC in the 2016 MLS Cup Final.

Toronto has actually conceded a goal in the MLS Cup, to the Red Donkeys, losing the match but not the cup tie. Toronto needed the away goals rule to struggle past a side composed of living adverts for an energy drink.

The back four of Jones/Nouhou, Marshall, Torres, and Leerdam have provided rock-solid stability at the back this season.

The Sounders FC have yet to concede a goal in this MLS Cup tournament. Marshall and Torres are, in my well-researched opinion, the best centre-halves in MLS, and Kelvin Leerdam is the best right-back in MLS, regardless of what the hare-brained selectors for the MLS Best XI have forced us to choke down.

Dempsey and Bruin scored a combined 28 goals in the league this season. That’s nearly as many as Giovinco and Altidore scored for Toronto, and that’s no small feat.

Before the MLS Cup semi-final first leg, I don’t think we’d ever won a match in Houston before. Well, we won, which tells me that pretty much anything is regardless of how much of a fortress they think their home ground might be.

The Bad News
Toronto FC are also a better team than the side that opposed us in the MLS Cup Final a year ago. Toronto mauled the rest of the league on the way to being crowned league champions. In doing so, they racked up more points in the standings than any club in the league’s 22-year history.

Toronto beat us 0:1 at Royal Brougham Park this season. It was the only match we lost at home this season. It hurt my feelings plenty.

With Vazquez pulling the strings in the TFC midfield, the Reds have more ways to shear a defence to shreds than a Swiss Army knife has attachments.

Giovinco and Altidore scored 33 goals between them in the league this season. Although that doesn’t terrify me, it does give me a moment’s pause.

Toronto have only lost twice at the Princes’ Boulevard ground this year. Once in the League against Montreal, and once in the MLS Cup to the Red Donkeys.

Speculation & Musings
The high temperature in Toronto will be 34ºF, with 59% humidity, and a 20% chance of precipitation that would likely manifest itself as snow showers. Wind will be a brisk 10 mph from the south-southwest. Break out the thermal underwear ECS. It’s gonna get frosty. Then there’s the matter of the weather.

According to the line-up in the semi-final second leg at Seattle, Lodeiro started the match as a holding midfielder, presumably in place of the injured Alonso. Will he do so again?

Although Jordan Morris is still listed as a matchday decision, you’d have to imagine there’s no way he could be prevented from lining up at the start of this one, yeh?

And further on in that line of thought: If Morris starts the match at left-wing, does Jones replace Nouhou at left-back and Rodriguez also to the bench?

Dempsey at striker, #10, or right-wing? You’d imagine that Dempsey at #10 with Bruin up top is a working formula that shouldn’t be tampered with, yeh?

Toronto has played an odd sometimes five at the back, sometimes three at the back shape this year. How are we going to find space in the midfield?

Does Svensson have another goal in him? I think he just might.

With Alonso ruled out due to his quadriceps, do we lose too much bite in the midfield? We’ve held it together so far, but Toronto won 20 matches in the league this season. Will it be enough for Svensson or Lodeiro to pick up the slack?

Although Dempsey has signed a one-year contract for next season, Joevin Jones will move to Darmstadt 98 later this winter. Will the Sounders’ circle of attrition continue? Perhaps it’s time to loosen up that salary cap, Mr Garber. It’s not a very good business plan if clubs have such thin squad depth that they must contest US Open Cup ties with players that look like they haven’t yet attempted their driver’s exam. I say this because viewing that US Open Cup match in San Jose featuring the better part of Sounders II against the San Jose first team made me want to go to the league office and slap someone in the face. Except for the free kick goal by Kovar, which was utterly delightful.

Joevin Jones will play his last match in Sounders’ Green today. I’m gonna miss that bloke.

A Year Ago
After we defeated Toronto FC in the 2016 MLS Cup Final, Graham Parker, a journalist for the UK newspaper, The Guardian, wrote: “For years, Seattle have built a reputation for attacking flair that wilts in the playoffs, but their gutsy charge through the second half of a difficult season has been built as much on defense as attack, and this final was an extreme example of that. Having beaten Sporting KC 1-0 in the play-in game with their only shot on goal, Seattle went one “better” in the final – becoming the only team in MLS history to not have a shot on target for the two hours of regular play.” The Guardian also wrote a sub-heading after the historic match: “The Sounders have won their first MLS championship after a 5-4 victory on penalties following a dreary 0-0 stalemate.”

Know Thine Enemy
Goalkeeper –
Bono, 23, has taken the starting job away from Clint Irwin. Developed by Syracuse (NCAA), Bono has 45 matches at MLS level. He started 28 of Toronto’s 34 league matches this season. Toronto’s record this season with Bono between the pipes is 19-6-4. He has played all four contests in the 2017 MLS Cup.

Defence –
Morrow, 30, has played over 190 times at MLS level and has scored 17 goals in his career. He was produced by Notre Dame (NCAA) and has earned three caps for United States.

Mavinga, 26, is a French national produced by several clubs including Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool. Never played for Liverpool who lent him to Belgian club Genk. He would later move to Rennes, Rubin Kazan, with loan spells at Reims and Troyes. In his first year at Toronto, he played in 26 league matches. He has played every match this MLS Cup and has earned four caps for DR Congo.

Moor, 33, is a domestic footballer produced by Furman and Indiana (NCAA). In his 13-year MLS Career he has played over 360 times for Dallas, Colorado, and Toronto, scoring 27 goals. In this, his second season with Toronto, Moor has played 22 MLS Cup matches in his career including every match of this MLS Cup. He earned five United States caps before retiring from international football in 2008.

Zavaleta, 25, is a domestic footballer produced by IMG Academy, FC Pride, Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA, Columbus Crew, and Indiana (NCAA). Zavaleta has played over 80 matches of MLS football in his five-year career. This is his third year with Toronto following stints at Chivas USA and Seattle Sounders FC. He played in 29 league matches this season and has played in all four matches of this MLS Cup. Zavaleta earned 23 youth caps for United States.

Beitashour, 30, is a domestic footballer produced by San Diego State (NCAA). He began his professional career in 2010 with San Jose Earthquakes. He would later move to Vancouver in 2014, and Toronto in 2016. The eight-year MLS veteran has played in nearly 200 league matches, including 22 appearances for Toronto this season. He has played in 14 MLS Cup matches in his career, including all four in this campaign. Beitashour earned six caps with Iran before retiring from international football in 2014.

Midfield –
Vazquez, 30, is a Spanish national developed by FC Barcelona. He played nearly 150 times for Barcelona reserves in his seven years at the club, and one match in the first team. In 2011, Vazquez moved to Club Brugge playing over 120 times and scoring 15 goals. This was followed by a brief stint at Cruz Azul and his subsequent move to Toronto for the 2017 season. In his first year at TFC, he appeared in 31 matches scoring eight goals. He has played every match in this MLS Cup. Vazquez is the engine that makes the Toronto attack go, setting up 16 goals in the league.

Bradley, 30, is a mainstay for the United States team (140 caps, 17 goals), often captaining the Yanks. His resumé is well known as is the $10M fee it cost Toronto to pry him from AS Roma. With well over 350 matches as a pro, many of them in Netherlands, Italy, and Germany, it’s safe to say Bradley is a seasoned pro of established quality.

Osorio, 25, was produced by Nacional (Uruguay), and Toronto FC. His six-year career began with SC Toronto of the old CSL. Osorio then moved to Toronto FC in 2013 and has since played over 140 times for them, scoring 13 goals. He has 11 matches played in MLS Cup, including all four matches from this campaign. Osorio has earned 19 caps for Canada, scoring twice. Although he only started nine matches for Toronto this season, he appeared in 27.

Forward –
Giovinco, 30, has an impeccable resumé. A product of Juventus (93 appearances/14 goals) and the Italian national team (23 caps, one goal), he played nearly 200 matches of top-flight Italian league football. He has 97 goals in 280 appearances as a professional. Agile and nimble, he is a force to be reckoned with whether dribbling at the defence or on the ball for set pieces. He is more than capable of providing the killer ball in the final third. This is his third season with Toronto and has played 86 matches for them, scoring 55 goals and setting up 37 others. He has 10 matches of MLS Cup experience scoring five goals and has played in all but one match in this year’s tournament.

Altidore, 28, has 96 goals in 270 appearances. He’s played in England, Turkey, Spain, and the Netherlands. From 2011-2013 scored 39 goals in 67 matches for AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch Eredivisie. He is notorious for having the highest fee ever paid to MLS for a transfer, $10M (€7.4M) to Spanish club Villarreal CF. No one pays that much money unless you have a tonne of skill. He’s a tank of a striker, much like Morris, only far more experienced. When not busy scoring goals, can sometimes be found laying the ball off like a traditional holding centre-forward. He has earned 110 caps and scored 41 goals for United States.

Familiar Faces
Defender, Eriq Zavaleta, played five times for the Sounders FC in the 2013 season. He was drafted by Seattle in 2013. He was traded two years later to TFC for a 2nd round draft pick.

Toronto from: Bono, Irwin, Pais, Alseth, Aubrey, Beitashour, Hagglund, Hasler, Hernandez, Mavinga, Moor, Morgan, Morrow, Zavaleta, Bradley, Camargo, Chapman, Cheyrou, Cooper, Delgado, Edwards, Hasler, Osorio, Vazquez, Altidore, Endoh, Giovinco, Hamilton, Ricketts, Spencer.

Sounders FC from: Frei, Miller, Meredith, Alfaro, Fisher, Jones, Leerdam, Marshall, Nouhou, Torres, Delem, Fisher, Kovar, Lodeiro, Mallace, Mathers, Neagle, Rodriguez, Roldan, Shipp, Svensson, Wingo, Adekoya, Bruin, Dempsey, Morris.

Injury List
Toronto –
OUT: none.

Sounders FC –
OUT: Evans (back), Alonso (quadriceps).
MATCHDAY DECISION: Morris (hamstring)

Disciplinary slate wiped clean for MLS Cup Final. So no matter who tried to run whom in the semi-final second leg, there are none suspended from either side. [exasperated sigh]

Fun Fact
At press time on Friday night, Ladbrokes listed MLS Cup Final bets on Toronto had odds of 3/4 (your bet times .75 plus the original stake) and bets on Seattle had odds of 18/5 (your bet times 3.6 plus the original stake). Suffice it to say that the famous London bookmakers believe that Toronto FC are likely to win. Well. We’ll just have to see about that. Won’t we?

P.S. if you’re going to bet be sensible. It’s plenty sad to lose the farm (or your shirt) due to gambling debt.