The stats behind Toronto and Seattle's quest to make history at MLS Cup
Out of the bundles of stats and data extracted for Saturday's MLS Cup final (4 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN), there are several choice nuggets of information that spark one's interest.
1. History is calling for both teams
Whether Toronto FC would go down in history as the greatest MLS team ever if it wins Saturday is a point that could be debated until the cows come home. Many will point to the early days of D.C. United, or one of the LA Galaxy teams from earlier this decade, but certainly TFC, who set the regular-season points record this year, is in the discussion should it hoist the trophy.
What would separate TFC from the others is the treble accomplishment, an MLS first. Now, the Canadian Championship is not nearly as rigorous as winning the U.S. Open Cup, but it's a trophy nonetheless, and it's not like the Ottawa Fury and Montreal Impact didn't put up a good fight in the semifinals and finals, respectively. Adding the third and most important trophy to the bunch would make TFC a standout in the history books.
The same goes for Seattle, albeit in a different way. Few are the teams that have gone back-to-back, and in this day and age of MLS expansion, two MLS Cups in two years would be exceptional. For context, a decade ago when the Houston Dynamo topped the New England Revolution for their second league crown in succession, MLS had just 13 teams compared to the 22 franchises today.
A win at BMO Field on Saturday evening would also extend a remarkable assembling of silverware in the Sounders' trophy cabinet. In addition to last year's 2016 MLS Cup, there was a Supporters' Shield and U.S. Open Cup in 2014, and you could even go back to 2009 when the team began a streak of three straight U.S. Open Cup titles.
This all means that Saturday's clash is a chance for either side to put a very firm stamp on the North American soccer books and be a part of any best-ever discussion.
2. Jozy Altidore: Mr. Clutch
It's been an eventful fall 2017 for Jozy Altidore. Once the final whistle sounded in Couva, Trinidad, on Oct. 10 and the United States was eliminated from World Cup qualifying after a 2-1 loss to T&T, Altidore and TFC teammate Michael Bradley were made public enemies 1A and 1B by U.S. fans.
Altidore's national team performances are certainly up for scrutiny, but the same cannot be said about his displays in red. The stat that jumps out is the six playoff goals scored since returning to MLS in 2015, tops among all players. And while he was part of the U.S. choke job in World Cup qualifying, he has been nothing but clutch for TFC in the postseason.
Witness his spectacular second leg in last year's Eastern Conference final against Montreal, with a goal and a series-defining assist in full beast mode. Only an otherworldly save from Stefan Frei denied Altidore hero status in last year's final. He was back at it in this year's conference final second leg against Columbus, shaking off an ankle injury to bury the Crew.
Love him or hate him, the stage is set for Altidore to join the ranks of MLS players such as Landon Donovan, Marco Etcheverry and Guillermo Barros Schelotto who were renowned for coming through in the big spot.
3. The unassuming savvy of Schmetzer
Prior to 2017, just one man in MLS history, Bruce Arena with D.C. United, had reached MLS Cup in his first two seasons as a head coach. Sounders boss Brian Schmetzer has now made it two.
It's fitting that it is a stat that is tucked away in the game-day programs. Schmetzer's personality is considerably different from Arena's. The former U.S. coach was never shy to talk up his accomplishment, while Schmetzer is more the modest type. The way he pushes his glasses back up on his nose every 30 seconds or so when talking to reporters gives off an "aw, shucks" air, but the manner in which he guided last year's Seattle team to glory and now has this year's squad poised for another title is hugely impressive.
With a win Saturday, Schmetzer could become just the fifth coach to win multiple titles and be considered one of the top coaches in the U.S. No small feat considering he got the job little more than 16 months ago.
Arch Bell is based in Austin, Texas and covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .