Well, we’re finally at the end. The 2016 MLS Season will come to its dramatic conclusion Saturday night in Toronto. Representing the Western Conference, we have a resilient Seattle Sounders side that overcame an abysmal start and the absence of several key players to make it through the playoff gauntlet. For the Eastern Conference, Toronto FC will be trying to do what Columbus couldn’t last season, and give the home fans a piece of silverware to celebrate. No matter who wins, the MLS Cup will go to a brand new home. Which side will seize the opportunity and secure a first ever league triumph?
Like I said in my other piece about the Sounders, the players to focus on have to be Jordan Morris and Nicolás Lodeiro. These two have combined for seven goals already in the playoffs, with Lodeiro scoring in all but one postseason match. Outside of these two, only one player, Nelson Valdez (2), could find the back of the net. While it has to be exciting as a Seattle fan to see Morris and Lodeiro tearing it up, they have to be concerned about their lack of attacking depth. If Toronto can somehow shut these two down, Seattle hasn’t really had a player that has proven he can step up and take on the pressure.
While it’s easy to focus on the attacking influences for the Sounders, one player on the other end that I want to highlight is Roman Torres. The Panamian defender jumped on to the radar for some MLS fans during his barnstorming performances during the 2015 Gold Cup, and his arrival at CenturyLink Field had fans in the northwest excited for good reason. Coming in at a towering 6’2” and nearly 200lbs (according to ESPNFC), the 30-year-old centerback provides the Sounders with an intimidating presence at the heart of defense. Going up against Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco, Torres and the rest of the Sounders defense will have to be on their toes throughout the match. One stat that may provide some optimism for Sounders fans is that when Torres starts, only two teams have managed to score more than once against Seattle.
Switching over to Toronto, their Conference Final fixtures against Montreal exposed a major weakness. Through those two matches, the Impact (who didn’t even start Didier Drogba) scored five times. In the first leg, Toronto found themselves down 2-0 before the 15th minute, and in the second leg they found themselves behind again before the 30-minute mark. This habit of starting slow has yet to prove a fatal flaw yet, but on such a big stage, it may finally come back to bite them. Granted, before those poor defensive displays against Montreal, Toronto had only allowed one goal in three playoff matches, but it still has to be a point of concern for Greg Vanney.
While Seattle has struggled to find goalscorers this postseason, Toronto has been absolutely spoiled for choice. Going into the finals, eight different players have found the back of the net for the Canadian club. Unsurprisingly, the two players leading that charge are Jozy Altidore (5) and Sebastian Giovinco (4). These two have formed a dream partnership with Jozy providing the strong, aerial presence and Giovinco providing the creative sparkplug that perplexes defenders with every turn. One of the few defenses that hasn’t suffered from this partnership this season is Seattle.
As much as I would love to see an American side take home the MLS crown, I think that Toronto has too much talent for Seattle to handle. Giovinco and Jozy are the most exciting duo in the league, and Vanney has had plenty of time to tighten up his defense leading into this match. Final score: Toronto 2-1 Seattle