How Seattle and Toronto can avoid a post-MLS Cup hangovers in 2017
MLS Cup 2016 is done and dusted, and now thoughts turn to 2017. Champions Seattle Sounders and runners-up Toronto FC will be keen to not suffer the post-MLS Cup blues that afflicted 2015 finalists Columbus and Portland in 2016. But how? Injuries are a given; every MLS team will see players miss time in the treatment room. But there are various other factors at play. Here are three steps that the Sounders and TFC can take to avoid a post-cup slump.
1. Address roster needs ASAP
The large majority of MLS teams have had nearly a six-week advantage over Seattle and Toronto when it comes to offseason planning, so both clubs need to work quickly to get their rosters firmed up for 2017 and try to avoid mistakes, such as the ones made by Portland last winter. The Timbers never recovered from the departures of left-back Jorge Villafana and winger Rodney Wallace. Their replacements, Chris Klute and Lucas Melano, respectively, failed to meet expectations, and a team that only conceded 39 goals in 2015 ended up coughing up 48 in 2016.
For Seattle, adding depth up front will be a must. The status of Clint Dempsey's heart ailment is still uncertain, and there is a good chance that Nelson Valdez leaves the club. The Sounders could also use some help on the wings, so that area of the pitch will have to be a priority of general manager Garth Lagerway.
Some depth in defense would be wise too. After struggling for most of the season, Tyrone Mears did well down the stretch and in the playoffs. But he's 33 years old, so Seattle should look to shore up the right-back position.
Making sure Armando Cooper returns in 2017 needs to be one of the main priorities for Toronto FC. The Panamanian midfielder arrived over the summer on loan from Arabe Unido and extending that loan or perhaps an outright purchase would make sense. Cooper is so effective in Greg Vanney's 3-5-2 and is just the type of player whose play can make the difference between a loss and a draw on the road. Should free agent Will Johnson also depart, bringing in some more experience in midfield would be wise.
Like Seattle, defensive depth would help Toronto stave off any dips in 2017. Drew Moor was terrific in 2016 playing in the middle of a three-man back line, but he'll be 33 when the season starts. A sturdy, versatile backup for Moor would be welcomed.
2. Limit the road woes
Out of the 34 away matches played this season by Portland and Columbus, the two teams combined for a paltry two wins, and both of those by the Crew. After a 2015 season in which they earned 23 points away from Providence Park, Portland mustered a mere six points in 2016. Columbus was not much better; 22 points in 2015 turned into 10 points in 2016.
In 2016, Toronto matched Portland's 23-point road haul, while Seattle's late charge saw them conclude the regular season with 16 points. Keep in mind that a single road win for Portland would have made all the difference in making the playoffs, as opposed to becoming the first MLS Cup champion to miss the next postseason since 2006.
3. Spare us the drama
Outside of injuries, there is nothing that can throw a team off course more than bad chemistry and off-field issues, and Columbus and Portland had their healthy share of it in 2016. The Crew's 2016 will largely be remembered for the bizarre dust-up between Kei Kamara and Federico Higuain back in May. Two players who were so integral to Columbus' 2015 run suddenly could no longer co-exist, and days later the joint-top scorer in MLS for 2015, Kamara, was shipped to New England. There's no question that impacted Columbus' season.
There were extracurricular headaches in Portland too, namely with the drunken driving arrests of Liam Ridgewell and Jake Gleeson in October, which wrapped up the Timbers' disappointing season.
Toronto remained a steady, drama-free bunch in 2016 thanks in large part to hard-working veterans like Michael Bradley, Moor and Johnson. However, if a European club swoops in and tries to pluck Bradley away, there would be a leadership vacuum in the TFC locker room.
Seattle's chemistry really came alive in their late-season charge, with the dance-loving Roman Torres leading the way after his return from injury. Will we see the same post-match boogie in 2017 now that they are champions? Or will the hunger and music fade together? Maintaining that cohesion stands to be Brian Schmetzer's biggest challenge in his first full year as coach.
Arch Bell is based in Austin, Texas and covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .