The Buildup to the MLS Cup Final

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After a one year gap last year with Atlanta United facing the Portland Timbers in the final, we are back with the Seattle Sounders against Toronto FC at CenturyLink Field. These two teams have met two times in the last three years, and now this Sunday, the third face-off is upon us.

In the two previous times these two teams have met, they were both played at BMO Field in Toronto. Now, it is back in the United States, and it will be played in front of a sold-out CenturyLink Field. With the stadium being sold out, this is the second year in a row that the MLS Cup Final will have an attending audience of over 70,000 people. For some perspective before last year, the only final to have a crowd over 50,000 was back in 2002 when LA Galaxy defeated the New England Revolution 1-0. As I said before, this is the third time in four years that these two sides have met each other in the cup final with the Sounders winning the first and Toronto winning the second. This means Sunday’s match will be the tiebreaker in the three-game series of Seattle vs. Toronto MLS Cup Finals.

How they got here

In the Western and Eastern Conference Finals, Seattle and Toronto were both heavily the underdogs with both playing away in front of extremely intimidating atmospheres. Nevertheless, down went LAFC and Atlanta United, and it set the stage for Sunday’s MLS Cup Final.

In the Western Conference Final, a record-breaking LAFC team was stunned at their home stadium when the Sounders came back to win the game 3-1. Overall, a dominant performance by Seattle as well as their number 9 Raul Ruidiaz, who netted two critical goals in defeating the Black and Gold army. Even though the stats showed that LAFC was in the driving seat for most of the game, people watching the game at the stadium or at home saw why Seattle let them. Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer instructed his players to invite pressure and then wait for the right moments to spring into a counter-attack. If you watch the highlights of the game, you will see that every one of Seattle’s goals was from a counter-attack off a defensive error or breakdown. Even the littlest of mistakes can be the unraveling of the toughest opponent. LAFC wasn’t ready for a team that wanted them to attack them. They were too used to opponents chasing and catching up to them that when an opponent with tactics and strategy to turn their greatest strength into their greatest weakness finally came along, they just weren’t ready.

On the Eastern side, it was a similar story. The favorites, Atlanta United, did have the stats to show them controlling the game, even starting fast, scoring within the first 5 minutes. Then, In the 8th minute, Atlanta was awarded a penalty, and it seemed to be over for the away side. However, Toronto’s goalie Quinten Westberg came up big, and the momentum was reversed on Atlanta as the game was back tied 1-1 by the 15th minute. It wasn’t until the last 15 minutes that Toronto stunned the home team and their supporters with a wonder strike from Nick DeLeon, putting it top left corner from 25 yards out. Overall, Atlanta shot 19 times, 15 of which hit the target. Compared to Toronto’s four shots, which all hit the target, two of which going in. By the shot stats alone, you can tell Atlanta were always on the attack taking on any shooting chance they got but in the end still not being able to produce. In the end, it only matters if you are clinical, and that’s precisely what Toronto was and why they came out on top.

My prediction

As much as I am not a Sounders fan even though I live in the surrounding Seattle area, it would not be bad to see them win the MLS Cup at home. Seattle’s biggest weapon this weekend will be that home-field advantage. 72,000 strong, the sea of green and blue will undoubtedly be a factor in the final result. Next, LAFC and Atlanta are both heavily attacking teams, and now that the two sides that had to sit sidecar for most of their previous matches are facing off, they both need to adjust accordingly to deny their opponent attacking chances. Nevertheless, this game will not come easy for either team as I am predicting a near 2-1 win for Seattle, giving the Sounders their second MLS Cup in four years.

It’s always nice to see the underdog win, and now we are having the battle of the underdogs in Seattle this weekend. I will have a review of the final result out next week, so make sure to come back and hear my breakdown of what is sure to be a great game. Thanks for reading.