2017 MLS Cup Preview

December 9, 2017

Toronto FC v. Seattle Sounders FC, Today at 4p EST on ESPN

 Goal Nation / goalnation.com (http://goalnation.com/the-audi-2015-mls-cup/)

 

So it's finally here, folks.  The day every American soccer fan has been waiting for and the day that international soccer fans don't even know exists.  That's right, we're talking about the MLS Cup Finals.  It's not always the case that you get two of the top teams in the league playing for the hardware at the end of the season but this match just happens to fit that description.  Toronto FC may be the statistically best team the MLS has ever seen in its little more than two decades in existence.  The Seattle Sounders are the defending MLS Cup champions and have a great blend of youth and experience in their Starting XI.  This will truly be a clash of titans on the pitch at BMO Field in Toronto today and here's what to watch for on this early December afternoon.

 

Toronto FC

 

Sporting News / sportingnews.com (http://www.sportingnews.com/ca/soccer/news/chasing-history-what-does-toronto-fc-need-to-do-to-set-all-time-mls-points-record/1vypf9m4j0uz91cj6cesvi4dqi)

 

These guys have been on fire since the season began back in March.  After securing both the Canadian Championship and the Supporters Shield this club has the chance to do something that hasn't been seen before in North American soccer history: the fabled treble.  (The treble refers to when a club wins its domestic league championship, domestic open cup competition and continental super cup.  The MLS version is the Supporters Shield, US Open/Canadian Championship & MLS Cup)  What's more impressive is the way that they've been doing it through explosive offense built off a very sound defensive structure.

 

Toronto has put up almost as many goals as the record setting LA Galaxy of '98 but it is important to note that dudes actually play defense in the MLS now.  When the Galaxy set their record they had put in 81 while allowing 51 goals in the regular season.  Comparatively, TFC has netted 74 goals while only conceding 37 which is absolutely absurd.  Simply put these guys are scoring about two goals a game while giving up just more than one.  This is what makes them so dangerous and such a tough team to break down.  They are built on a formation that frequently sees them drop from five in the midfield to a five man backline when transitioning to defense.  From there they can break out quickly with Giovinco or Altidore, or slowly build up through the midfield with that clown-ass Michael Bradley.  (For all I care he can stay in Canada after the season ends since he seems to only know how to play ball when nobody's watching or he is playing somewhere that they pay for their beer with fowl themed coins.)  They can also punish you on set pieces either playing into an attacking position or scoring directly from the spot kick.  Giovinco is the current MLS record holder for goals scored from a direct kick with his record breaking 10th strike coming halfway through his third season in the league.

 

I could continue to go on about other facets of what has made this Toronto team into a powerhouse this season, like their use of analytics to develop field position strategy, but let's be honest, if you've read this far I might as well reward you by moving on.

 

Seattle Sounders FC

 

Fansided / mlsmultiplex.com (https://mlsmultiplex.com/2017/03/30/seattle-sounders-vs-atlanta-united-preview/)

 

Seattle's back, back again.  For a kid like Jordan Morris he may not truly understand the grueling climb it takes to arrive at this point once let alone in back-to-back seasons.  It was just last year that the club reached the finals for their first time in franchise history and already they have a chance to one-up their NFL roommates at CenturyLink Field.  While this is one of the more prolific clubs in the league they have been flying under the radar a bit with the attention drawn by the new expansion teams and Toronto's historic run throughout the season.  That being said they cannot be taken lightly.

 

Again, being a disciple of defense I'm immediately to drawn to the fact that Seattle has not conceded a goal in the last six playoff games.  I'll say that again: Seattle has not been scored on in six full playoff games.  Roughly speaking that 540 minutes or 9 hours excluding injury time.  That's longer than Mike sits at his desk pretending to work while he sips bourbon and makes fancy graphics for that Friday's show.  And that isn't six games where your schedule is possibly sprinkled with the Colorado Rapids of the world.  That's six games where grown ass men are being paid to just win, baby, and no one has been able to sneak one across the line.  Houston couldn't even get a participation goal when they went down in flames on aggregate 5-0 in the last round of the playoffs.  That's not to discount their offense which is also solid posting 1.53 goals per game in the regular season and has actually seen an uptick to 1.75 in the playoffs.  Be sure to watch Joevin Jones on the left flank as he will be applying pressure to that Toronto back line with pace and creativity all night long.

 

The Match

 

MLS / mlssoccer.com (https://www.mlssoccer.com/mls-cup-playoffs/2017)

 

It should be a great game tonight in Toronto.  It is a shame that a match of this quality is going to get lost in that weird 4pm broadcast window on a Saturday afternoon but if that's what it takes to get viewers to tune into ESPN then so be it.  It may also be that there was fear of having to pry dead, frozen fans off their seats if it was an outdoor night game in Toronto in December but isn't that why they make Molson XXX? (Forecasts are calling for 34F/1.1C temperatures with 11 mph winds and 50% chance of precipitation at 4pm)

 

When it's all said and done I believe that the team lifting the Cup will be the one that plays their style for 90 minutes.  Sure that sounds cliche but there's a reason cliches and stereotypes exist, right?  If Toronto is able to control the middle of the pitch and the central channels with their five man midfield it is going to be difficult for Dempsey, Morris and company to get into rhythm.  However if Seattle is able to get on the board early it may be enough to get TFC out of that very structured formation.  We saw in the second leg with the Crew that there are pockets of space in the midfield that can be exploited but unless you put one on the board it doesn't matter, Toronto is seasoned enough to be able to adjust on the fly.

 

Alternatively, Greg Vanney's boys also haven't been lighting up the scoreboard recently in their playoff campaign.  They've scored enough to get to this point but TFC hasn't looked like a team that can win a shootout having only scored three goals all playoffs long.  One could argue that means they're due but I also get the sense that Giovinco et al are feeling the pressure a little bit up front.  If the Seattle defense continues to be stingy I don't know that TFC possesses the creative capabilities to break them down outside of an isolated set piece.

 

With all of that in mind when the final whistle blows history will be made as Toronto FC becomes the first MLS club to complete the North American Treble with a 1-0 victory at home.  For those degenerate gamblers out there I'd also put down coin on a parlay with the over 2.5 and TFC covering the half goal spread and then hedge that with the Seattle +370 moneyline.

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