SEATTLE — With a light rain falling as the Sounders went through their final training session before Sunday’s MLS Cup final [3 p.m. ET, ABC] against familiar title-match foe Toronto FC, the scene inside CenturyLink Field was about as quintessentially Seattle as it gets. Almost.
“I’d like it to be a little more windy and rainy,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer joked during his final pre-match media conference Saturday morning.
No matter the weather on Sunday, the home team should still have a significant advantage over the Reds, what with more than 70,000 tickets — a record for the cavernous NFL venue — snapped up just 20 minutes after going on sale. Still, Schmetzer knows as well as anyone the threat that TFC, which beat the Sounders in Toronto in the 2017 finale after losing to them there the year before, presents.
Already during these playoffs, the Reds have cemented their reputation as road warriors. Greg Vanney’s side dispatched D.C. United north to the border in the first round, then went to New York and shocked regular season Eastern Conference champion NYCFC. Next, they traveled to Atlanta and upset the current trophy holder. Add in TFC’s run to the final of the CONCACAF Champions League last year, and it’s clear these visitors won’t be at all daunted by the enormous partisan crowd that awaits them in Seattle.
“I'm sure they're going to be behind their team, but at the end of the day, the fans create an atmosphere — they don't win games,” Vanney quipped. “We played a lot of tough games on the road down the stretch and have been able to get results, and so we come into this with the right mindset and understanding of how to play a road game. And this one will be the biggest one of the year.”
Toronto FC dominated the two previous MLS Cups between these teams; only an otherworldly late save from keeper Stefan Frei on Jozy Altidore, combined with a couple of Reds misses in the ensuing penalty shootout, allowed them the hoist the hardware in 2016. Altidore and Co. would not be denied in the rematch the following year, with the U.S. national team veteran notching the second half game-winner for the overwhelming favorites.
This one? This one is an awful lot harder to call. The Sounders have the bookies’ bet, although not by much. Both teams are sound defensively; a goal-fest on Sunday seems unlikely. Still, the hosts’ attacking trio of Nicolas Lodeiro, Raul Ruidiaz and Jordan Morris probably gives them a slight edge, especially with Altidore not guaranteed to even play a role off the bench after suffering a quad injury last month.
Morris in particular could be the wildcard. Ruidiaz got most of the credit following his brilliant performance against Supporters Shield-winners LAFC in the West final, and rightfully so. But to hear Schmetzer tell it, Morris, who sat out the 2017 MLS Cup because of a hamstring injury and then missed most of last season after tearing his ACL, has been an unsung hero for the squad since moving to the left wing back in March.
“Throughout the games this year, you wonder why Nico's effective, why Raul was effective,” Schmetzer said. “[It’s because] Jordan has that ability to stretch the field for our team. And so he has been vital for us.”
Whether it’s enough for Seattle to claim its second league crown in four seasons remains to be seen. Whatever the outcome, though, the spectacle ought to make for a memorable afternoon in one of North America’s most soccer-mad cities.
“This ranks up for me with a Super Bowl-type event,” said Schmetzer, a Seattle native. “It's certainly a testament to the people here in Seattle. We care about soccer. We enjoy going to games.”
Rain or shine, they’d enjoy a win on Sunday even more.
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