Toronto vs. Seattle: Which of league's biggest clubs will win MLS Cup?
As we gear up for Saturday's MLS Cup final, ESPN FC asks league contributors Jason Davis and Arch Bell to look exclusively at Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders to shed some light on who's best positioned to lift silverware on Saturday night at BMO Field.
Do Toronto and Seattle have anything left?
Jason Davis: Even if Toronto FC wasn't buoyed by hosting MLS Cup, there would be plenty of reason to believe it had enough left to win the title. Still, the long break before the game comes as something of a mixed blessing. On one hand, it allows both Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore to recover from minor injuries. On the other, it could leach away the form and confidence that has carried them to this point.
Arch Bell: Considering Seattle handled the international break between the conference semifinals and finals so well, I see no reason why there should be any worry about the two weeks between their win in Colorado and Saturday night. If anything, the break will allow some of their recently injured players, such as Roman Torres and Jordan Morris, to heal further. Seattle will be ready to go.
Lessons learned from regular-season matchups
JD: If TFC learned anything from a 1-1 draw with Seattle back in July, it's that Morris is a dangerous player. A weakened Toronto team went up a goal at BMO Field, only to see its lead erased when the rookie split a pair of defenders, stopped on a dime and curled in a right-footed shot. Both teams will look very different on Saturday, but Morris will be there, and Toronto will be wary.
AB: Not a whole lot. The two teams played with vastly different squads in a 1-1 draw on July 2 than the ones we'll see on Saturday. There was no Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore for TFC, plus Armando Cooper had not yet arrived. While for Seattle, ex-coach Sigi Schmid still had the pre-Nicolas Lodeiro Sounders in a 4-3-3, and Torres was out injured. It's hard to glean much from their only meeting this season.
What one player on your team will cause trouble for your opponent?
JD: Despite the presence of Giovinco, the answer is Altidore. Giovinco is always dangerous, but Altidore's form is otherworldly at the moment. Every aspect of his game -- from his touch to his hold-up play and beyond -- has been excellent during TFC's playoff run. Seattle has the physical center backs necessary to deal with some of what Altidore can do, but the forward's vision and passing are impossible to counteract completely.
AB: Lodeiro. The Uruguayan international is the ultimate playmaker and makes the Sounders attack go. Whether from the run of play or on set pieces, Seattle is a pass away from scoring if Lodeiro is over the ball. Oh yeah, and he's a clinical finisher, as evidenced by his four playoff goals.
What one player on the opposing team should you be afraid of?
JD: Lodeiro has taken MLS by storm since arriving in late July and helped Seattle push all the way to MLS Cup. Toronto will need devote serious resources to stopping the Uruguayan, a choice that necessarily opens up space and opportunity for other Sounders players. That's how good Lodeiro is, and how wary of him Toronto must be; due to his dynamic ability to impact the game all over the field, shutting him down comes first.
AB: Giovinco. Altidore was a beast in the conference final versus Montreal, but Seattle's two big center backs should have better success against the U.S. international. Giovinco's wizardry creates a different headache altogether, since the former Juventus man is so good at spinning off defenders or creating space for himself. Seattle cannot afford any lapses when Giovinco is in the area.
What would an MLS Cup mean?
JD: Toronto has already shaken its reputation as MLS' most historically incompetent franchise with this run to the final. But a victory at home in front of the TFC faithful would only further establish the club as one of the league's elite. Spending without winning is just another form of failure; an MLS Cup championship would elevate Toronto into a select group in one fell swoop.
AB: Everyone knows how big the Seattle-Portland rivalry is in MLS, so last season when the Timbers left Columbus with the 2015 MLS Cup in hand, it had to have stuck to the ribs of all Sounders fans. But redemption awaits, and a championship would be a sweet reward for Seattle followers who have put up the best attendance numbers in the league. More important, they would regain top-dog status in Cascadia.
JD: Toronto 2-1 Seattle. With the support of the crowd and the firepower at its disposal, this is Toronto's championship to win. Altidore's form and a smart defensive plan will be enough to get TFC two goals (one on a set piece) and a title.
AB: Toronto 1-2 Seattle. Seattle's late-season and playoff momentum will be put to the test by a rowdy home crowd and the TFC attack, but the visitors will hold firm, as Lodeiro's two assists will pace the Sounders to a first-ever title.