The MLS Cup Final has been set, and it’s not the matchup most would have predicted a few weeks ago. Eastern Conference table-toppers NYFC went down relatively early, and high-powered Atlanta United fell in the semis. Western Conference leaders LAFC and newly-minted MLS MVP Carlos Vela were sent home, and the always-prominent LA Galaxy failed to make a run (as some thought they might despite a so-so season). What we’re left with, though, should make for a tense and exciting Final: a third edition of Toronto FC vs. Seattle Sounders.
Here’s our preview of the action.
How They Got Here
Despite the fact that both of these clubs have become fixtures in the MLS Cup Final, both followed somewhat unorthodox paths to the end this season. Toronto FC finished fourth in the Eastern Conferences with just a plus-five goal differential to its name. But it handled DC United with ease in the opening round of the playoffs before upsetting top seed NYCFC 2-1 on a 90th-minute penalty kick in the conference semis. Toronto managed another 2-1 win over Atlanta FC (this time on a 78th-minute beauty from the top of the box by Nick DeLeon), and it was back to the Final.
Seattle, on the other hand, had a strong season on paper but left a lot of supporters wanting. Its 56 points were enough for the 2-seed in the West, yet it still nearly fell to Dallas in the opening round, needing a winner from Jordan Morris in extra time to advance. The second round brought a more solid 2-0 win over a tough Real Salt Lake side, and then Seattle managed a fairly monumental upset over LAFC in the semis. LAFC went up early, but five minutes later Raul Ruidiaz notched an equalizer – and four minutes after that, Nicolas Lodeiro put the Sounders up. Ruidiaz scored again in the 64th minute to solidify a 3-1 win and a trip to the Final.
The Oddsmakers’ Pick
One need only listen to MLS pundits to get the idea that this is not an easy match to predict. Few expected a third Final matchup between these two sides, and Seattle in particular has been so difficult to figure this season it feels like a genuine toss-up. That said, some among the now-legal U.S. bookmakers closest to the MLS action appear to have reached a light consensus. Per many of the Pennsylvania online sportsbooks, the Seattle Sounders are in fact being given slightly better odds to win the match.
The Players To Watch
If there’s been one standout player between these clubs during the playoffs, it’s got to be Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei. The 33-year-old Swiss shut out Real Salt Lake and allowed just one goal from high-powered LAFC, and has been in firm control of a suddenly-stingy Sounders defense.
The Sounders have numerous players who can score given the opportunity, but keep an eye on midfielder Cristian Roldan as well. His level of control over this match could well be a deciding factor.
On the Toronto side, Nick DeLeon has emerged as the star of this tournament. The Phoenix native has scored twice and assisted once through three matches, and at this point is the most threatening midfielder on either side of the ball in this match. Aside from DeLeon, however, the most important player for Toronto is one who may not even take the field: Jozy Altidore. The veteran forward has indicated it will take a miracle for him to play in the Final as he seeks to recover from a quad strain, but anything he’s able to give – even as a potential super-sub – could make a difference.
Seattle wins 2-1. Frankly it doesn’t feel like either team was meant to be in this position this year, but if anything that just makes the matchup more intriguing. It’s as if a third Cup Final meeting between the two was simply destined to happen. It could go either way, but with Seattle playing at home and Frei looking so confident, it’s hard to pick against the Sounders.