Editorial (December 17, 2017) – Two years after USA ’94, Major League Soccer was born. Twenty one years later, the league is still a learning youngster in the landscape of world football, but it’s stamp on the continent is evident, vibrant, and growing. In most other leagues, the champion is the team at the top of the standings at the end of the season. MLS being where it is, follows the North American tradition of playoffs. Earlier this month, Seattle Sounders FC returned to Canada to play Toronto FC, and it was the fourth time in league history that two sides rematch in the final, and the third consecutive instance of happening in back-to-back seasons.
The History Of MLS Cup Rematches
The Young History
D.C. United won the inaugural MLS Cup in 1996, beating an LA Galaxy side 3-2 in extra time. The two sides met again in ’99, with D.C. winning in 90 minutes by a score of 2-0.
The next rematch happened eight years later when Houston Dynamo beat the New England Revolution for the second time in 2007 by a score of 2-1, to follow up a title win from penalty kicks the year before over the same side, to become the second team in MLS history to win back-to-back titles, joining DC United in the exclusive club.
LA Galaxy got in five years later in 2012 when they beat Houston for the second time in consecutive seasons, winning both their titles in full time.
In the fourth edition of a rematch in MLS history, the Seattle Sounders looked to become the fourth team in the league’s back-to-back title club. A victory within 120+ minutes or less would have gone a long way in convincing the pundits who believed they lucked into last year’s title by winning on penalty kicks after not registering a single shot on target over the same period of time. Seattle had the advantage of having absolutely no pressure on them, but came up short.
Their rematch opponent, Toronto FC, not only hosted MLS Cup final at their home grounds of BMO Field for the second year in a row. They are also the reigning Supporters Shield winner for 2017 with an MLS record 69 points, a feat that some would argue was the response to losing last year’s final in the manner that they did. A TFC victory made them the first team to ever avenge a loss in an MLS Cup rematch, giving them admission as the seventh member to another exclusive club: the MLS Double, and set off a debate as to whether or not the ’17 edition is the best side ever in MLS’ short history, while denying Seattle entry to the back-to-back title club.
Both paths to the final are practically opposites of each other from the year before. In 2016, Toronto FC scored 17 goals on their way to the final via the Philadelphia Union, NYCFC, and Montréal, with a goal differential of plus 11. Seattle, despite the bus-parking impression they left on the MLS Cup weren’t exactly offensive slouches, scoring eight goals in matches with a goal differential of plus five through Sporting KC, FC Dallas, and the Colorado Rapids.
This year Seattle rode a clean sheet to the final, scoring seven goals along the way via the Vancouver Whitecaps and Houston Dynamo. Toronto FC in comparison – who’s weakness (if there is one) is parking the bus – has had to rely on stout defensive form between their matches with the New York Red Bulls, which they survived via away goals aggregate and Columbus Crew SC, with whom they kept a clean sheet over but needed a goal in the second half of the second leg to go through.
The weather was expected to be just as chilly as last year despite the earlier start, and affect both teams as surely as last year, and affected play and tactics.
Repeat vs. Redemption
Most pundits expected Seattle – who played with zero pressure since they already won in Toronto last year – to register at least a shot on goal this time around. Some Sounders supporters and quite a few neutrals were expecting to relish the opportunity to feed their own schadenfreude by rubbing more salt in the wounds of Bradley and Altidore over the USA’s failure to qualify for the World Cup with the added misery of watching an opposing team once again lift the Cup on BMO Field.
The pressure was squarely on the repeat hosts. With the win, they are the first Canadian side to be MLS champions, the first team to avenge a loss in a title rematch, and the first team since 2011’s LA Galaxy to win the Supporters Shield and MLS Cup in the same year. This victory washed away memories of Mo and Preki, the Bloody Big Deal even though it sparked the turnaround, Winter and Nelson, years of laughing-stock futility, and made the South End Massive extremely ecstatic.