Toronto FC vs. Seattle Sounders: Who has the advantage in MLS Cup?

Soccer insider James Sharman joins Faizal Khamisa to get us set for the MLS Cup final, and the intrigue of having the same matchup as last year, with both teams much improved.

Saturday’s MLS Cup final promises to be a salivating affair between Toronto FC and defending champions Seattle Sounders at BMO Field.

This rematch has several intriguing storylines and individual battles to watch. Given that both sides have depth in quality, two strong attacks, solid defences and balanced midfields, this final will surely be separated by the thinnest of margins.

With that in mind, here is a closer look at each team and who has the advantage in each position.

GOALKEEPER

TFC’s Alex Bono and Seattle’s Stefan Frei played crucial roles for their respective teams in 2017, especially in the playoffs. Now comes the final hurdle.

Frei, who was named MLS Cup MVP last year, is clearly more experienced than Bono, who is only in his second MLS season and only became a starter this year. Additionally, the Swiss-born Frei has a slight advantage in agility and quicker decision-making.

The latter attribute comes with repetition, so it’s not a case of TFC’s No. 1 being inferior to Frei. However, when it comes to the mental aspects of this final, the Sounders goalkeeper wins out.

Advantage: Seattle Sounders

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.

DEFENCE

The Sounders have not conceded a single goal in the playoffs thus far, while TFC surrendered two across its four matches.

Seattle’s defensive tasks were made a lot easier by the Vancouver Whitecaps’ toothless attack, plus the Houston Dynamo had a man sent off in both legs of the Western Conference final. Toronto, on the other hand, had to face an intense and high-pressing New York Red Bulls side and the equally motivated Columbus Crew.

However, both back lines are solid in their own right. Toronto conceded a league-low 37 goals during the regular season, but Seattle’s 39 is nothing to snuff at, either.

TFC’s 3-5-2 provides more defensive cover and restricts space for opposing attacks. Deploying a high press similar to the Red Bulls or Atlanta United can exploit that defence, but it’s generally solid, which is why Toronto narrowly takes it.

Advantage: Toronto FC

MIDFIELD

This is where it becomes tough to determine an advantage for either side. TFC has more depth in central positions, but the options Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer has at his disposal in wide positions could prove vital in the final.

As far as the starters are concerned, Toronto has Michael Bradley, Marky Delgado and Victor Vazquez. Bradley is arguably TFC’s most important player because of his work rate, calming presence on the ball and defensive qualities. Vazquez had 16 assists, second only to Sacha Kljestan (17) of the Red Bulls. Delgado, meanwhile, operates as a box-to-box midfielder and his runs forward tend to open up space for those in front of him.

The Sounders were dealt a blow with the injury of Osvaldo Alonso, who is ruled out for Saturday. However, Schmetzer still has Gustav Svensson, who should partner Christian Roldan. That means there will be proper balance compared to when Roldan is next to Nicolas Lodeiro.

Roldan is a very solid all-around midfielder. His off-the-ball movements, anticipation, positioning and passing range are all very impressive. However, due to the depth and numbers on the pitch, it’s difficult to look past TFC in the centre of the field.

Advantage: Toronto FC

FORWARDS

These teams are entering the final in contrasting attacking form. The Sounders scored seven goals in their last three post-season matches, while TFC has mustered just three goals in these playoffs.

However, both teams have clear difference-makers up front. TFC’s Jozy Altidore bagged the winner over Columbus, plus he has six goals and four assists in nine playoff matches for Toronto since 2016. The only concern for TFC is Altidore’s ankle injury and how he performs.

Then there is Sebastian Giovinco, who is arguably the most lethal free-kick specialist in MLS. However, Giovinco has not scored from open play in his last six appearances for the Reds. But if there is anyone capable of snapping out of a scoring skid, it’s the diminutive Italian.

On the other side, Clint Dempsey and Will Bruin have proven to be a clinical duo up front for the Sounders in the playoffs as they’ve been involved in all but two of the team’s goals.

The Sounders’ forwards are in superior form, but TFC’s strikers have outscored their counterparts 33-28, plus they are two of the most dangerous players in the league when they are clicking. For those reasons, Toronto pips Seattle here.

Advantage: Toronto FC

COACHES

The MLS Cup, like most finals, will be a tightly contested affair. Both Schmetzer and Greg Vanney – the MLS Coach of the Year – will be wracking their brains coming up with the picture-perfect tactical strategies.

Schmetzer managed to shut down TFC’s high-octaine attack last year, but he’s taken the Sounders to a new level this season. Seattle’s attackers contribute to all facets of play and they interchange positions constantly, which makes it difficult to contain them.

Vanney has shown tactical flexibility throughout the season, which has aided TFC to this point. The only worry is that he has yet to solve the high-pressing teams and if Seattle deploys similar tactics, the Reds coach will be in for another tough test.

Both coaches are very smart and have enjoyed great success. However, Schmetzer has the MLS Cup ring, the Sounders are in great form at the right time, plus he has the formula to beat TFC.

Advantage: Seattle Sounders

INTANGIBLES

The depth in quality is going to come into play if the game is close.

The Sounders have more variety with their options, their attackers are in better form and can play in a number of different roles. Toronto has one of the best rosters in the league, but Seattle’s astute moves have gone relatively unnoticed in some circles.

The likes of Victor Rodriguez, Kelvin Leerdam and Nouhou all joined the team during the season and have become valuable members of the squad. Bruin arrived from Houston during the off-season and has become a more complete forward under Schmetzer.

Seattle is also aided by the fact that it has far less pressure compared to Toronto. The Sounders may be the defending champions, but TFC set the points record and won the Supporters’ Shield, plus they lifted the Voyageurs Cup. The team has been fixated on MLS Cup from the get-go, so failing to claim that honour for a second consecutive year would sting.

Toronto has dealt with the expectations to this point, but the team’s accomplishments in 2017 will be affected without that elusive MLS Cup.

Advantage: Seattle Sounders