Team of interest: Who are the Seattle Sounders?

Toronto FC fullback Justin Morrow spoke with the media following practice Saturday. He spoke on the changes that both TFC and the Seattle Sounders have made from last season.

Twelve months ago, the Seattle Sounders dashed Toronto FC’s dream of winning the MLS Cup before its fans at BMO Field in the cruellest of fashions.

Now the Sounders are back and looking to pull one over on TFC for a second time when the teams meet again in Saturday’s MLS Cup final.

Who are the Seattle Sounders? And how did they get to a second consecutive MLS Cup?

Here’s a closer look at the Western Conference champions.

Seattle’s path to the MLS Cup

The Sounders finished the 2017 regular season with a 14-9-11 record, tied with the Portland Timbers on 53 points atop the Western Conference table. Portland won more games than Seattle, the first tiebreaker, to claim first place.

Seattle still managed to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs and home-field advantage in the Western Conference semifinals. After battling the Vancouver Whitecaps to a 0-0 draw in the first leg, the Sounders won 2-0 at home in the return match to move on to the next round. Seattle easily dispatched the Houston Dynamo in the Western Conference finals courtesy of 3-0 and 2-0 wins – the Dynamo had a player red carded in both legs.

Listen to the MLS Cup final between Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders on Saturday, Dec. 9 from BMO Field live on Sportsnet 590 The FAN and online at the Sportsnet 590 website. Pre-game coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. ET. Kickoff is at 4:00 p.m. ET. Dan Riccio and James Sharman will have the call of the match.

A balanced squad

Undoubtedly, Clint Dempsey is the star of this Sounders side. Toronto coach Greg Vanney rightly referred to the American national team veteran as Seattle’s “X-factor,” as he’s a dynamic attacker who can play a number of positions and led Seattle in scoring with 12 goals during the regular season.

But the Sounders have plenty of other contributors, including forward Will Bruin who was traded to Seattle in the winter, and scored 11 goals in 2017. Midfielder Cristian Roldan is an exciting youngster, as is forward Jordan Morris, while Uruguayan Nicolas Lodeiro is a true game-breaker, and regarded as one the finest playmakers in MLS. Behind one of the tightest defensive lines in the league is Stefan Frei, one of MLS’ top goalkeepers.

A stout defensive record

Led by Chad Marshall, a three-time MLS defender of the year, Seattle conceded only 39 goals during the 34-game regular season, good enough for the third-best defensive record in the league – Toronto ranked second, with 37 goals.

The Sounders have maintained their strong defensive form in the playoffs, recording shutouts in each of their four games. In fact, Seattle has kept a clean sheet in its last six games dating back to the regular season, and hasn’t given up a goal in its previous six post-season matches, a streak of 647 consecutive minutes that dates back to last year’s second leg of the Western Conference final against the Colorado Rapids.

Players in common

Saturday’s game will feature two players who have turned out for both teams.

Toronto defender Eriq Zavaleta was selected 10th overall by the Sounders in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Indiana. But he never caught on in Seattle, and he was loaned out to Chivas USA before being traded to TFC ahead of the 2015 season.

Swiss-born goalkeeper Frei attended the University of California before being drafted 13th overall by Toronto in 2009. He quickly established himself as the club’s starting goalkeeper that season, leapfrogging Canadian veteran Greg Sutton who was later released by the club.

Frei was one of TFC’s best players during some very lean years when the club was among the worst teams in the league. He broke his leg early on in 2012, and sat out the entire season. He played one regular season game the following year before Toronto traded him to Seattle in the off-season. In total, Frei played in 82 games in his five years with TFC, earning 20 wins.

A rematch of last year’s MLS Cup

Seattle and Toronto have only met once before in the playoffs, but it was in last year’s MLS Cup final, also played at BMO Field.

TFC carried most of the play and looked far more dangerous in attack, while the Sounders became the first team in MLS Cup history not to register a single shot on goal through 120 minutes of regulation and extra time. Frei came up with a stupendous finger-tip save in extra time, robbing Toronto forward Jozy Altidore of a sure goal, to help keep Seattle in the game and force a penalty shootout.

From there, the Sounders held their nerves, winning 6-5 on penalties to stun the crowd into silence and hoist the MLS Cup trophy on the pitch as disappointed TFC fans poured out of BMO Field.

Toronto vs. Seattle: The all-time series

Seattle leads the all-time series against Toronto, winning seven of 12 regular season games with two draws. TFC won the only meeting between the sides this year, earning a 1-0 win at CenturyLink Field on May 6 – Altidore converted from the penalty spot.

This year marks only the third time since the first MLS Cup in 1996 that that same teams have met in back-to-back finals: (LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo in 2011 and 2012; and Houston and New England Revolution in 2006 and 2007)

Toronto FC supporters get an inside look into their favourite club every Monday night at 11 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN. It’s an all-access pass with co-hosts Brendan Dunlop and Thomas Michalakos as they interview the biggest names around the team and preview and review of every TFC match.