Preview: Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC gear up for MLS Cup round three

MLS Cup Final
Photo of the MLS Cup at the Space Needle courtesy of John A. Babiak/Last Word on Soccer.

Preview — Being an elite team doesn’t just mean you win championships. Instead, being elite means that a team is consistent. For the Seattle Sounders FC and Toronto FC, that consistency has led up to Sunday.

For the third time in the last four years, the Sounders and Toronto FC will battle for the MLS Cup title. In the first two championship meetings, Toronto earned the right to host. However, this year, the party is in the Emerald City. Both sides split the victories, too. Seattle claimed the title in 2016 and Toronto fought back a year later.

Seattle has been bursting with consistency since entering the league in 2009. In the club’s existence there hasn’t been a year where Seattle isn’t in the playoffs. The late Sigi Schmid coached the team until 2016, when Brian Schmetzer took over. Schmetzer, who formerly coached Sounders 2, led the team to its first-ever title.

As for Toronto FC, the club entered MLS back in 2007. However, for the cub’s first eight seasons, Toronto never punched their ticket to the playoffs. After three-straight seasons of making the playoffs, the Reds faltered last year. Finishing in the East at ninth place, Toronto did not qualify for the playoffs. However, they did win their third-straight Canadian Championship title.

The past is in the past, though.

For both sides, it’s all about Sunday at 3 p.m. In a tiebreaker match that was meant to happen, the Sounders and Toronto will battle for the ultimate prize.

What to Watch For

TFC: Will we see Jozy?

Jozy Altidore has yet to make his playoff appearance this season.

Dealing with a quad strain, Altidore is looking to make his appearance during the final. However, this begs the question: if Toronto made the final without him, do they need him for the last match? Tsubasa Endoh has essentially been starting in Altidore’s place, and has been performing admirably.

Endoh, a native of Japan, has started both of Toronto’s playoff appearances. While he hasn’t recorded a goal yet, Endoh’s three shots have all been on frame to startle defenses and goalkeepers. While defenses have glued their eyes on Alejandro Pozuelo and Michael Bradley, Endoh has made space for himself.

Meanwhile, Nick DeLeon proved that he still can kick it with the big players. A midfielder from Phoenix, Arizona, DeLeon spent his entire MLS career with D.C. United until this year. He came in as a substitute last week and blasted a wicked game-winning tally past Brad Guzan.

With the performances in the starting lineup and off the bench, Toronto might not need Altidore in the final match. Injuries have plagued the USMNT international. However, he could always be used as a super substitute if Seattle takes a first-half lead at home.

Seattle: Can Xavier Arreaga keep up his form?

Before arriving in MLS, Xavier Arreaga never received a red card. He’s been with the Sounders since the summer and accumulated two in the regular season. Because of his adjustment to the league — and, of course, a new language and culture — Arreaga has been on the bench since Roman Torres came back from suspension.

However, Torres suffered an injury against FC Dallas. Seattle was forced to insert Arreaga next to Kim Kee-hee, who has started throughout the regular season and playoffs. Arreaga performed well. And last week, he was rewarded with another start against Los Angeles FC.

Arreaga and Kim were deemed with what seemed like an impossible task: keep Carlos Vela off the scoresheet. However, both centerbacks did just that, and kept up on defense with a strong outing. Now, Seattle can only hope that Arreaga — and even Kim, since this is his first-ever MLS Cup Final — can keep their consistent form against Toronto.

Kim has been a machine on defense this year. He’s been paired up with a slew of different centerbacks.

He started the year with Chad Marshall. However, due to lingering issues, Marshall retired in the summer. Then, he was also paired with backups Saad Abdul-Salaam and Jonathan Campbell. At one point, Kim even partnered up with Gustav Svensson in the back. However, in recent matches, he’s been paired with either Arreaga or Torres.

There’s no doubt, too, that Torres is aging. Kim and Arreaga are Seattle’s centerbacks for the long run.

The Injury Report

  • Toronto: Jozy Alditore is the only player listed, as he’s dealing with that quad strain.
  • Seattle: Will Bruin scored two goals for the Sounders when they played Toronto back in April. However, Bruin is out, after he tore his ACL this summer. Meanwhile, Torres is also on the list as questionable with his left hamstring strain.

When’s the Match?

The MLS Cup will air on ABC at 3 p.m. EST/12 p.m. PT on Sunday. It will also air on Univision and TSN4.

 

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