TORONTO – Two MLS Cup Final debutantes will take the field Saturday evening in a chilly affair that will see Major League Soccer, America’s top-tier, crown a new champion. Neither Seattle Sounders nor Toronto FC have made it to the final in their short histories, although the path to arrive at this stage has been different for each side.
TOROnto fc in this year’s MLS Cup Final
In 2007, Toronto FC was a much-hyped expansion club; at the time, they were the only Canadian side in the North American league. The introduction of the Reds to the league signaled an “MLS 2.0” after a period of decreasing attendances and the folding of two Floridian clubs five years earlier. Many were left to wonder if the Major League Soccer experiment had failed like so many of the American leagues had done in previous years.
Enter Toronto FC – a raucous supporters group backed a team that had not existed twelve months earlier in a city that is well-known for its love of their ice hockey team, Toronto Maple Leafs. Expectations for the team to succeed were high: newly-constructed BMO Field was sold out week after week, they had a wealthy ownership group in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., and a Scottish legend in Mo Johnston at the helm of the first team. However, performances on the field were lacking as Toronto finished bottom of the table.
Over the next eight years, a long period of instability and disagreement in the front office followed and the Reds were still without a playoff appearance until 2015. The acquisitions of Italian international and 2015 MLS MVP and Golden Boot winner Sebastian Giovinco along with American duo Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore gave hope to the passionate and loyal fan base as they qualified for the postseason play-in match against another Canadian club, Montreal Impact. Their playoff appearance was short-lived as they crashed out via a hapless 3-0 loss after giving up all three goals inside 39 minutes.
2016 brought with it new hope after what qualified as a successful 2015 campaign compared to the miseries of years past. Head coach Greg Vanney led Toronto to a third-place finish in the Eastern Conference and have scored seventeen goals while conceding only six over five matches to reach the final. Jozy Altidore has scored in all five games in the postseason and the Reds boast offensive threats throughout the entire squad. They will be viewed as favorites by most, as they have the privilege of playing the final in their home stadium due to their favorable regular-season points total.
The seattle sounders are confident of taking the mls cup final trophy
In 2009, expansion club Seattle Sounders FC took the league by storm, setting a new standard in fan support. Each year since 2009, the Sounders have finished at the top of the league in attendance, helped by the fact that they play home matches in the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks-owned stadium, CenturyLink Field. In each of their eight years of existence, Sounders have qualified for the playoffs, never making it past the Conference Final round until this year.
2016 threatened to be the first season the Sounders would not qualify for the playoffs as their record was the worst in the Western Conference as late as July. In one week, the Sounders fired the only coach they had ever known in Sigi Schmid, appointed long-time assistant Brian Schmetzer as interim head coach, and finalized the transfer of Uruguayan playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro from Argentinian club Boca Juniors. From there, things went swimmingly for the Sounders as they took the league by storm and finished an impressive fourth in the Western Conference.
Since his arrival in late July, Lodeiro has provided the much-needed spark the Sounders lacked since the transfer of Obafemi Martins to China back in March. Lodeiro has provided eight goals, four of which have come in their improbable playoff run, and eight assists. Along with the emergence of highly-rated rookie and USA international Jordan Morris and the resurrection of Paraguayan forward Nelson Valdez, the Sounders have looked like a different team than the one who couldn’t seem to buy a goal earlier in the year. En route to the final, the Sounders have outscored their postseason opponents by eight goals to three, boasting a stout back line that will surely be tested in the frigid Toronto weather Saturday night.
Toronto look to be at full strength for the final after Giovinco was forced off in extra time in the Eastern Conference Final’s second leg against Montreal, whereas the Sounders will be without their highest-paid player and motivational leader, Clint Dempsey, who has been sidelined with a heart condition since his two-goal performance in a 3-1 win against Pacific Northwest rivals Portland Timbers in late August. All other players should be available for selection, barring a late training injury in the next two days.
Don’t miss the MLS cup final kick off
Kick-off is set for 20:00 Eastern Standard Time (01:00 December 11 GMT) with Irishman Alan Kelly, who recently won MLS Referee of the year honours, serving as center referee. The match will be nationally televised on FOX in America, TSN in Canada, and Sky Sports 3 in the UK and Ireland.
Ben Phelps is a youth coach at Augusta Arsenal Soccer Club in Georgia.