Last year’s MLS Cup Final featured two players that would enjoy limited, fringe success with the USMNT to date, an international veteran whose national team career was most likely already over at the time of the game, and a couple prospects who have collected a teaspoon of international action. And sure, it was fun to see Darlington Nagbe put a cap on a torrid final quarter to the season while speculating on the futures of Ethan Finlay, Wil Trapp, and even Jorge Villafana, this year gives USMNT fans a bit more to chew on. The third highest scorer in U.S. Men’s history, the current national team captain, and one of many intriguing attacking prospects will all take the field on Saturday night with everything on the line. It’s time to see if they’ll put on a show.
W (5-2) - Montreal Impact - Eastern Conference Final
L (2-3) - Montreal Impact - Eastern Conference Final
W (5-0) - NYCFC - MLS Cup Playoffs
W (2-0) - NYCFC - MLS Cup Playoffs
W (3-1) - Philadelphia Union - MLS Cup Playoffs
W (1-0) - Colorado Rapids - Western Conference Finals
W (2-1) - Colorado Rapids - Western Conference Finals
L (1-2) - FC Dallas - MLS Cup Playoffs
W (3-0) - FC Dallas - MLS Cup Playoffs
W (1-0) - Sporting KC - MLS Cup Playoffs
What to Watch for:
Heavy Hitters - Jozy Altidore has been absolutely destroying opposing defenses in these playoffs, and I’m being fairly close to literal there.
Sure, Jozy’s numbers and offensive play have been gaudy. Just in his last game against Montreal, he scored a perfect snap header, provided the hold-up play that led to Benoit Cheyrou’s winning goal, and then dished in the assist on Tosaint Ricketts’ icer. But Jozy has also been playing like a wrecking ball, stretching the rules of the game to the very limit to punish defenders trying to body him and open up space for Sebastian Giovinco to work. Ciman and Cabrera couldn’t handle him.
Seattle have two center backs that love to scrap as well in Chad Marshall and Roman Torres, and neither is a slouch physically (that’s putting it lightly; Roman Torres is terrifyingly huge). Depending on how referee Alan Kelly calls this final, liberal use of ice packs might be needed after the final whistle.
Bradley, Lodeiro, Morris, Oh My - Toronto FC’s offensive explosion has masked just how poor their defensive midfield looked for long stretches against the speed of Dom Oduro and playmaking ability of Ignacio Piatti. Unfortunately for them, Jordan Morris and Nico Lodeiro will look to cause them many of those same headaches. Obviously there are differences (chances are good Morris will be floating around the forward positions as opposed to being a true winger, for starters), but the fact that Toronto looked like garbage at points against Montreal should give Greg Vanney and Michael Bradley pause. In the first leg against Montreal, Will Johnson’s inclusion gave Toronto more balance, but he couldn’t prevent Montreal’s initial lead in the second leg, either. If Toronto wants to win this final, the U.S. captain needs to figure out how his team will deal with Seattle’s attack.
Streak vs. Streak - Seattle has been the best team in MLS the second half of this season, and Toronto haven’t been far behind. The addition of Lodeiro and emergence of new head coach Brian Schmetzer have worked wonders, with Seattle making this final from a midseason grave. Meanwhile, Jozy Altidore returned from summer injury with an absolute vengeance, and propelled TFC through a Giovinco absence that probably would have crippled them last year. Will Seattle’s newfound balance leave its mark on a frozen Toronto evening? Will whatever they put in the water at BMO Field propel the Reds to another first? There’s everything to play for, and someone’s streak has to end.
Last year’s final thoroughly went against the conventional wisdom of home-field advantage. The Timbers scored two flukey and/or opportunistic goals, yes, but the Crew’s one goal was their only big chance of the game, while the Timbers could’ve easily finished with four. Finals resist the normal like that.
But I’m still taking Toronto in a barn-burner this weekend, to the tune of 4-3. Sure, I don’t think TFC can stop Jordan Morris and Nico Lodeiro, but I also think Jozy Altidore has been playing the best soccer of his career and has finally become the forward so many U.S. fans expected him to be or so long, and the magic at BMO is very real. Look for mistakes, missed calls, and goals, goals, goals.