Toronto vs. Seattle: Everything you need to know about MLS Cup
Looking for the full skinny on MLS Cup? Search no further! Below, ESPN FC breaks down all the nuts and bolts ahead of Saturday's grand finale between Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders (8 p.m. ET).
Seattle (WWLWW): The Sounders have not tasted defeat since their Western Conference semifinal second-leg loss, a 2-1 result at FC Dallas.
Toronto FC (WLWWW): Toronto's lone postseason defeat was its narrow 3-2 loss in the Eastern Conference final first leg at the Montreal Impact.
Seattle Sounders' 2016 season
Peaks and valleys, highs and lows, a roller coaster ride. No matter how you spin it, 2016 has been a very interesting year in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle suffered a herky-jerky start to the season before lapsing into a stretch of just two wins in 12 matches. That brought about a number of changes, namely the firing of Sigi Schmid as coach in late July and the appointment of Brian Schmetzer as his replacement.
Another setback was in the cards, though, when Clint Dempsey was diagnosed with a heart ailment. But with new arrival Nicolas Lodeiro pulling the strings in Schmetzer's new-look 4-2-3-1 and Jordan Morris scoring key goals, Seattle stormed up the table to reach the postseason and ultimately the final.
Toronto FC's 2016 season
Not nearly as rocky as Seattle's season, Toronto still had to deal with its share of adversity. Injuries took their toll, with forwards Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco missing a combined 17 matches and midfielder Michael Bradley out for 10 games due to a Copa America Centenario injury.
A spell of seven wins in nine games from late July until mid-September had Toronto thinking of the top spot in the Eastern Conference, but a draw too many meant a third-place finish. After flip-flopping between a 3-5-2 and a diamond 4-4-2 during the bulk of the season, head coach Greg Vanney settled on the 3-5-2 in the season finale, and with it Toronto took flight -- amassing 17 goals in five playoff games.
Teams' efforts in the conference finals
Seattle endured a rocky start in the Western Conference final, but led by Lodeiro the Sounders overcame an early 1-0 deficit to claim a 2-1 first-leg win at home. Their defense then outperformed their ballyhooed Colorado Rapids counterparts in the second leg, absorbing their opponents' initial pressure before turning the tables and finding the winner in the second half through Morris for a 1-0 win and 3-1 triumph on aggregate.
If Seattle's conference-final start was rough, Toronto's was downright abysmal. At the hour mark of the first leg, Vanney's team was down 3-0 to Montreal but showed resiliency by tallying two late goals to set the stage for the home second leg. There, Major League Soccer fans were treated to one of the best playoff games in history, as Toronto rallied to win the match 5-2 in extra-time and the series 7-5 on aggregate.
Importance of MLS Cup
Let's be honest, the Portland Timbers becoming the first team from Cascadia to win an MLS Cup had to be painful for Sounders fans. The denizens of Seattle will be desperate for their club to match the Timbers' feat from a year ago and gain top-dog status in the region once again.
It may not be as bad as Milwaukee (45 years), but Toronto's title drought in major North American sports is a stout 23 years (though the Argonauts won the Grey Cup four years ago). A generation that has never experienced a championship will be eager to see that end.
Head-to-head records this season
The two teams clashed just once in 2016: a 1-1 draw on July 2 in Toronto. Jordan Hamilton put TFC ahead on the hour, only for Morris to respond a minute later. The match was more noteworthy for all of the players missing, among them Altidore, Bradley and Dempsey.
Osvaldo Alonso is expected to be recovered from the knee injury that forced him from the semifinal second leg against Colorado, while recently injured defender Brad Evans and midfielder Erik Friberg should also be available.
Giovinco had to exit the second leg against Montreal in extra-time with cramps, but he will be ready for Saturday's tilt.
Alvaro Fernandez's versatility in midfield is a luxury for Schmetzer, as the Uruguayan can play more of an attacking role out on the wings or go box-to-box if needed. And don't forget Herculez Gomez; the veteran striker started the season with Toronto and a late winner from Gomez would put a bow on Seattle's improbable run.
If Toronto needs a late offensive boost, look no further than Tosaint Ricketts. He has two goals and an assist in the postseason, including the second of Toronto's two goals in extra-time in the second leg versus the Impact.
Schmetzer, a former Sounders player and coach when the club were in the A-League/USL, has been impeccable since taking over in what is his first MLS gig. His formation switch from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 was the catalyst for Seattle's late-season charge.
Vanney, also in his first MLS coaching job, has shown tactical acumen this season with Toronto's late change to a 3-5-2. He also nailed his subs in the Montreal series; Ricketts ignited the TFC attack in Montreal, while Benoit Cheyrou scored the series winner in the second leg.
If Cristian Roldan continues to perform like he has in the last few months playing alongside Alonso in midfield, it will give Seattle's attacking corps the freedom to romp forward.
For Toronto, Armando Cooper's midfield presence is key. The Panamanian offers that bite in the center of the field and possesses speed and touch in attack. It is no coincidence that since he earned a starting spot in the Toronto lineup on Sept. 28 after arriving this summer on loan from Arabe Unido, TFC has lost just twice in nine matches.
Arch Bell is based in Austin, Texas and covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .