Toronto, Seattle on storybook runs heading into MLS Cup

Toronto FC was once known as the team that couldn’t score a goal. Now they can’t stop scoring. Toronto, which has transformed into an attacking juggernaut in the playoffs, can put a decade of being an MLS punchline behind it when it hosts the Seattle Sounders in the MLS Cup final on Saturday.

Toronto earned the right to host the final by defeating the rival Montreal Impact in a home-and-home Eastern Conference final series that concluded with a thrilling 5-2 extra time home victory for Toronto FC. The match included everything that has made Toronto such a gripping story in a city whose embrace of the club appeared to be waning after years of futility: the speed and precision of forwards like Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco, and the belief that Toronto’s time has finally arrived.

Opponents have yet to solve Toronto’s offense in Greg Vanney’s 3-5-2 formation, which has produced 17 goals in 5 playoff matches. The combination of Altidore’s physicality and Giovinco’s shiftiness is too much for defenders to contain all at once, and any safety in clearing the ball out of play is diminished by Toronto’s stellar record on corner kicks, which led to all three of its goals in regulation in the second leg against Montreal.

The Sounders have gotten used to being the underdog by now. Most observers wrote them off halfway through the season when they fired their coach and a heart ailment sidelined their biggest star Clint Dempsey. But new coach Brian Schmetzer had some help right away in the form of summer transfer Nicolas Lodeiro, who reignited Seattle’s offense. The Sounders finished the season with eight wins and only two losses in 14 games under Schmetzer, keeping their postseason streak alive.

Lodeiro’s favourite playmaking target is rookie forward Jordan Morris, who led Seattle with 12 goals during the regular season and scored a pair of crucial markers in the Western Conference final. Morris scored the lone goal in the second leg of the series despite suffering from severe flu-like symptoms, exemplifying the spirit of resilience and sacrifice the Sounders have rallied around in the absence of Dempsey. Steadied by the defensive play of midfielders Cristian Roldan and Ozzie Alonso, Seattle has weathered every big test thus far this postseason without bending, allowing just three goals in five matches.

The city of Toronto has waited more than two decades for a major North American sports title since the Blue Jays last captured the World Series in 1993, and despite the Jays and the NBA’s Raptors making deep playoff runs, Toronto FC is now the team holding the hopes of the city in their hands, with only the Sounders standing between them and glory.