After a seven-goal thriller in the Eastern Conference Finals last night, we finally know who will be squaring off in the 2016 MLS Cup. The Sebastian Giovinco squad, aka Toronto FC, will host the Seattle Sounders at BMO Field on December 10th.
When you look at the talent that Toronto has on their roster with the likes of Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, it’s not all that surprising that they’ve made it this far into the postseason. The same thing cannot really be said for Sounders. To start the year, then-coach Sigi Schmid had to deal with the departure of the team’s leading goal-scorer from the 2015 season, Obafemi Martins.
Martins absence alongside Clint Dempsey up-top caused a fair amount of trouble for the Seattle club as they struggled mightily out of the gates losing all three of their opening matches. At the halfway point of the season, the Sounders had only won five of 17 matches. This poor form saw the Sounders struggling in the table and it eventually led to the axing of Schmid at the helm after nearly seven years in charge.
Since Schmid’s departure and the promotion of Brian Schmetzer, Seattle have looked like a completely revitalized side. In the final 15 matches of the regular season, they won 10 times and took home 34 of a possible 45 points. To make that record even more impressive, they’ve been playing without Clint Dempsey since August 21st.
Without the 33-year-old striker leading the line, Seattle have had to rely on rookie sensation Jordan Morris and Nicolás Lodeiro for an attacking spark. Morris found the back of the net a team-high 12 times during the regular season (four of those coming without Dempsey), and he came up big in the conference finals scoring in both legs, including the game-winner against Colorado to seal the club’s first ever trip to the MLS Cup Finals.
Lodeiro, on the other hand, has almost immediately become an integral part of Seattle’s attack after joining the club late in July. In just 13 regular season appearances, he scored four times and assisted another five. As if that wasn’t good enough, he’s already scored five times in the playoffs. The only postseason match that he didn’t score in was in the second leg victory over the Rapids.
While the Uruguayan doesn’t have the same electrifying pace that Martins brought to the squad, his positional awareness and distribution ability are almost unmatched in the league. Sitting behind the striker, Lodeiro can seemingly create amazing scoring chances whenever he wants, and if there aren’t any runs open, he can just as easily dance his way through the defense himself.
Sadly, for Seattle and US fans, the club has already confirmed that Dempsey will not be making his return in the finals, but with Morris and Lodeiro in amazing form, I don’t think that will be too big of a concern. The Sounders have already shown the league that they are fully capable of ripping teams apart without the Texan in the lineup, and even if he was healthy enough to return, how effective could he really be after such a long absence?
I’ve always respected the Sounders because of their unbelievable supporters, and I’m honestly shocked that this is the first time that they are going to the MLS Cup Finals. After a slow start, and the absence of key players, you can only really be amazed that they made it this far in the season. They’ll have yet another mountain to climb next weekend in Toronto, but daunting challenges are nothing new for this squad.