In its 10th season, Toronto FC will finally be playing for the MLS Cup. It so happens that it’ll take place on December 10. Naturally, here are 10 things to know about Saturday’s opponent, Seattle Sounders FC.
1. Keeper connection
Former Toronto goalkeeper, Stefan Frei, was a massive fan-favourite in the Reds’ earlier seasons, often one of the few bright spots through lacklustre years. He was traded to Seattle exactly three years to the day MLS Cup kicks off at BMO Field. Frei left Toronto as its all-time leader in appearances with 99 (since passed by Jonathan Osorio, Ashtone Morgan and Justin Morrow). Incidentally, Frei entered the league in 2009, the same year as Seattle, the city in which he has regained his place as a first choice keeper in MLS.
2. Midseason turnaround
Seattle’s run to the MLS Cup Final would’ve been a far-fetched fantasy in late-July. That’s when the club had just six wins, two draws and 12 losses, sitting 10 points back of a playoff spot, which led to the firing of head coach Sigi Schmid. Longtime club servant and then assistant coach, Brian Schmetzer, took on the top job and led a miraculous recovery where the Sounders won points in 12 of their last 14 games – including eight wins – to finish fourth in the Western Conference for a postseason berth.
3. Midfield Lode
A new head coach in Seattle coincided with the arrival of an exciting designated player in midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro. The 27-year- old ‘number 10’ must be credited more than most for turning the Sounders’ season around on the pitch, with his four goals and eight assists in just 13 matches. The two-time World Cup player with Uruguay and a member of the 2011 Copa America-winning squad, Lodeiro was named MLS Newcomer of the Year this season. He has been sensational in the playoffs with four goals from five outings.
4. Hometown hero
Seattle is a soccer hotbed with a proud tradition, therefore it’s no surprise that a local player like 22-year-old Jordan Morris has burst on to MLS. The first-year forward scored 12 regular season goals this year on way to earning the MLS Rookie of the Year award. Morris has added two postseason tallies as well. The U.S. international has been praised by fellow countrymen in Toronto, with Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore leading the way.
5. Day one dreamers
There are three Seattle players who have been with the club since the 2009 expansion: Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans and Zach Scott. A no-nonsense shutdown midfielder, Alonso is expected to start on Saturday and could stifle Toronto’s creativity. Evans and Scott – both defenders – came off the substitutes’ bench during the previous series versus Colorado.
6. First trip to the cup
Seattle has a remarkable record of making it to the playoffs in every season of its league existence, yet this – their most unlikely run to the postseason – sees Sounders star in the MLS Cup Final for the first time. In 2014, Seattle won the league title (Supporters’ Shield) and twice made the Western Conference Final (2012, 2014), unable to reach the biggest playoff stage.
7. Mighty underdogs
The postseason path to MLS Cup Final for Seattle featured matchups against the top two teams with the most regular season points. After hosting and winning the knockout round tie over Kansas City 1-0, Seattle overcame league title holder FC Dallas (4-2 on aggregate), and the Colorado Rapids (3-1 agg.) in the Western Conference Final.
8. Second striker
While Lodeiro and Morris get top billing, production from Paraguay forward Nelson Valdez has been of great importance to Seattle in the playoffs. Valdez came off the bench to head the late winner against Kansas City. He was rewarded with a start against Dallas next, where Valdez scored his second goal in as many matches. The designated player hadn’t hit the back of the net all season for Seattle, his value coming to light when needed most. Seattle has been employing him up front with Morris surging from the right.
9. Steady at the back
An experienced backline will be deployed to stop Toronto’s attack on Saturday. Centre back Chad Marshall is no stranger to BMO Field, having spent 10 years in Columbus. He partners Panama international Roman Torres in the middle. Trinidad and Tobago’s Joevin Jones (left) and Tyrone Mears – formerly with English sides Burnley and Bolton – are the regular fullbacks.
10. Home and away
Since joining MLS in 2009, Seattle has led the league in attendance every year, helped by the long-held passion for the beautiful game in the Pacific Northwest, and its massive NFL stadium in which Sounders can seat more than most clubs. There will be about 1500 travelling supporters backing the Sounders at BMO Field on Saturday. While their regular season away record doesn’t look impressive with just four wins, three of those came during their midseason turnaround. Seattle visited Toronto on July 2 in the regular season drawing 1-1, with Morris scoring for the visitors. In the playoffs, Seattle has won one of its two on the road, beating Colorado 1-0 to finalize the Western Conference MLS Cup spot.