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2019 MLS Cup Final Preview: Seattle Sounders vs. Toronto FC

Toronto FC fans
For the third time in four seasons, Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC will face each other in the MLS Cup Final. Ahead of Sunday’s clash, COPA90 took a look at both sides’ routes to the final.

The first time these two teams faced each other was in 2016 on Toronto’s BMO Field, with Seattle Sounders winning 5-4 in a penalty shootout. Toronto would avenge its loss with a 2-0 win the following season with goals by Jozy Altidore and Victor Solsona. This Sunday marks the third chapter of this trilogy, with Toronto FC traveling to Seattle this time around in search of its second title. 

It was a surprise to many to see both sides in the final as each beat their respective conference favorites – LAFC and reigning MLS champs, Atlanta United. So, how did they do it?

Seattle’s Road to the Final

Seattle Sounders Nicolas Lodeiro goal vs LAFC

Nicolas Lodeiro celebrates his goal during the Western Conference Final against LAFC

Seattle Sounders has had an interesting run this season, ending in second place three points ahead of Montreal and Salt Lake City. Seattle advanced past Dallas and Real Salt Lake to face LAFC in the Western Conference final. LAFC was the heavy favourite going into the match, lining up with league MVP and leading scorer, Carlos Vela. 

LAFC was the dominant team in the West, finishing in first place 16 points ahead of Seattle with a 45 goal differential. Seattle’s Brian Schmetzer knew it wasn’t going to be easy facing LAFC but adjusted his tactics accordingly.

Schmetzer played a 4-2-3-1, allowing them to press up the field while penning LAFC into its own half. However, Seattle struggled to create momentum as LAFC took advantage, creating chances from all angles.  

LAFC’s Eduard Atuesta opened the scoreboard with an amazing freekick in the 17th minute but it wasn’t long before Seattle’s Raul Ruidiaz equalized the game with an assist from Nicolas Lodeiro five minutes later. 

Lodeiro secured a second goal in the first half via some great play, started by Ruidiaz in midfield and assisted by Joevin Jones. Ruidiaz in the 64th minute took an open shot in the box, making the final mark 3-1 and leading his team to the final. 

Schmetzer strategy exposed LAFC’s vulnerability and allowed Seattle to take advantage. The manager is known for learning and testing his opponent and it clearly won’t be any different for Toronto FC, who scaled its own mountain to reach this point.

Toronto’s Road to the Final

Toronto FC Eastern Conference Champions

Toronto FC win the Eastern Conference Championship after victory over Atlanta

It’s been a rocky road for Toronto this season, overcoming the departure of its best player Sebastian Giovinco, as well as dealing with key injuries to forward Jozy Altidore and defender Omar Gonzalez during the playoffs.

Toronto’s journey began with a semi-final Eastern Conference win over a well-rested NYCFC in New York. The win gave its fans hope that another final was within reach…but the defending MLS champions, Atlanta, stood in the way.

Atlanta took the lead in the proceeding fixture 1-0 through a breakaway goal set up by Pity Martinez. The lead ended in the 14th minute by way of an outside the box shot by Benezet, giving Toronto the equalizer. 

Atlanta’s defense failed again midway through the second half, leaving Deleon too much space before he grabbed the go-ahead goal. Come the final whistle, Toronto were Eastern Conference champions.  

Tactically, Greg Vanney worked miracles after being forced to compensate for the Altidore and Gonzales injuries. He used more of a defensive 4-3-3 formation to make up for the absence of his two injured stars. Chances are he’ll deploy the same formation against Seattle with Pozuelo playing a key role through the center in place of Altidore.

Both coaches are veterans of MLS Cup finals and know each other very well. That familiarity extends to several players too, who have featured in the past finals. The 2016 final featured both Lodiero and goalkeeper Stefan Frei, while Michael Bradley held down the fort in midfield for Toronto with Altidore upfront. Rumor has it, Altidore could be fit for this weekend’s final. 

Like reporter Jon Arnold tweeted in jest: “MLS is a simple league, twenty-four teams chase a title for 34 matches, and at the end the Seattle Sounders always play Toronto.” He couldn’t be more accurate.