Seattle, Toronto set for MLS Cup rematch

Giovinco and Mears go at it in Toronto and Seattle's first championship tiltBMO Field in Toronto will once again play host to an MLS Cup final between Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders on Saturday. The 2016 final needed penalty kicks after Toronto and Seattle played to a scoreless draw in frigid temperatures, and though the Sounders prevailed, Saturday’s rematch has a feeling of unfinished business. Both Seattle and Toronto would have a claim to being one of the best MLS teams of all time with a victory, adding an extra layer of competition to the contest.

A victory for Toronto would complete the treble with the Supporters’ Shield and the Canadian Championship already in hand, and cement their record season as one of the greatest in MLS history. The Sounders are attempting to become just the second team to win back-to-back MLS Cups, which is an even more impressive feat with the league expanded to 22 teams than it was when the Houston Dynamo did it in a 13-team league.

Seattle won last year despite missing star forward Clint Dempsey, who was dealing with an irregular heartbeat. The 34-year-old Dempsey returned to the pitch this season and is the Sounders’ top scorer with 12 goals in the regular season and another three in the playoffs. Seattle’s offensive production has continued despite the absence of Osvaldo Alonso, who suffered a strained quad in September and has been sidelined for most of the postseason. Alonso will miss Saturday’s match, but midfielders like Cristian Roldan, Gustav Svensson, and team assist leader Nicolas Lodeiro have been up to the task of replacing him.

The Sounders are a stronger team than they were without Dempsey last year, but Toronto FC has also improved. Toronto won the Supporters’ Shield with an MLS-record 69 points and the addition of Victor Vazquez has made their attacking style almost impossible to contain. With the duo of Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco up front and Michael Bradley anchoring the midfield, Toronto already presented a formidable challenge, but Seattle was able to stifle them last year. Adding Vazquez’s creativity to the mix could be too much for the Sounders’ defense.

Toronto announced Altidore will play Saturday after suffering an ankle injury in the second leg of the Eastern Conference final. Altidore still managed to score the lone goal of the match after suffering the injury, and he will likely need to be the hero again considering Giovinco’s spotty track record playing in cold weather. Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer displayed his tactical prowess last year by grinding Giovinco and Toronto down in the freezing wind, but a similar approach could spell doom for Seattle this year, especially if Toronto FC can find its way to an early goal.