A season that stretches back over nine months ends today, as Toronto FC hosts the Seattle Sounders with MLS Cup on the line. TFC has been carried through the playoffs by an irresistible attack, managing two different five-goal outings and scoring two or more goals in every single postseason game. They’re averaging 3.19 goals per 90 minutes since the playoffs started. Seattle, meanwhile, is the immovable object: the Sounders have three playoff shutouts and have conceded just three goals in five outings.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Toronto came into the season unsure of their formation and largely painted as Sebastian Giovinco and ten other dudes (which, given the presence of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, is some kind of strange accomplishment). Many folks - in the face of history, logic, and decency, it must be said - had the New York Red Bulls winning the East. Some did pick TFC, but they had just six wins after nineteen games.
An 8W-5D-2L run to finish the season - spearheaded by Giovinco and Altidore, who is in the best form he’s had in years - sent them into the playoffs, where they’ve reeled off four wins in five games. The thrilling 7-5 extra time success over their rivals from Montreal just adds to the idea that TFC - so often the butt of jokes, once “the worst team in the world” - is the favorite to lift the cup.
TFC is an unlikely finalist, but the Sounders being here is virtually inexplicable. Seattle started the season with three losses. They had another three-game losing streak by the time they’d played twelve games, and they lost twelve of their first twenty games. It was at that point that Sigi Schmid was fired, but Brian Schmetzer’s coaching hasn’t been the only reason Seattle has completed a miraculous turnaround. Nicolas Lodeiro has been nothing short of brilliant, Roman Torres came back from injury at the perfect time, and Cristian Roldan’s emergence as a partner to Osvaldo Alonso (who, even when Seattle was terrible, was playing superbly) has solidified the midfield.
Seattle’s end-of-season run is nearly identical to TFC’s - they went 8W-4D-2L under Schmetzer - but they’ve gotten it done in a different way. The Sounders have given up less than a goal a game under Schmetzer, but they’re still a team that presses and looks to possess. With Jordan Morris offering speed and Nelson Valdez - who had 2 goals in 34 appearances coming into the playoffs - working selflessly for himself and others, Lodeiro has been able to create more than enough chances for Seattle to win games without having to grind them out.
Plenty of MLS Cup finals have been tense, tight games. Typical finals, you might say. Today’s is probably not going to be that kind of game. Both teams have a wide array of attacking talent and play in a style that emphasizes it. Both teams have played numerous dramatic playoff games in the past few weeks. And on top of that, we’re talking about the possibility of the orange ball coming into play, unusually cold temperatures, and what are likely gusting winds coming off of Lake Ontario. Attacking teams with a penchant for drama in a league that seems to breed weirdness? Sounds like fun.
Location: BMO Field (Toronto, Ontario)
Kickoff time: 8:00pm Eastern
Available TV: Fox (like, the real, over-the-air broadcaster Fox; English), UniMas (Spanish), Univision Deportes (Spanish)
Available streaming: Fox Sports Go (English), Fox Soccer 2Go (English), Univision Deportes app (Spanish), Univision Now (Spanish)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
This is the place to be as we see who gets the first star above their badge.