Either Toronto FC or Seattle Sounders will join the list of MLS champions on Saturday night in the 2016 MLS Cup, as both squads are competing on the league’s biggest stage for the first time in their respective histories. Regardless of who wins, history has already been made, as Saturday marks the first final that will not involve an original MLS side. Toronto FC are attempting to become the first Canadian team to win the league, while the Sounders will try to become the second straight Cascadia Cup team to win the title after the Portland Timbers accomplished the feat in 2015.
How They Reached the 2016 MLS Cup: Toronto FC was the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference after finishing with 53 points, their best season in club history. The Reds had never before won a playoff match, but bested No. 6 Philadelphia by a 3-1 margin in the opening round, defeated No. 2 New York City 7-0 on aggregate in the conference semifinals and beat No. 5 Montreal 7-5 in extra time in the Eastern Conference finals to reach the 2016 MLS Cup.
Seattle was the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference, finishing with 48 points despite going through a coaching change at midseason. The Sounders defeated No. 5 Sporting Kansas City 1-0 in the opening round, defeated No. 1 FC Dallas 4-2 on aggregate in the conference semifinals and held off No. 2 Colorado 3-1 in the Western Conference finals to set up the meeting with Toronto.
The sides have never met in the postseason before. They had one meeting in 2016, a 1-1 draw at Toronto’s BMO Field that saw Jordan Hamilton give TFC the lead in the 60th minute and Jordan Morris equalize in the 61st minute.
Both Toronto and Seattle have plenty of stars on their side, and both have plenty of firepower to find the net. Toronto’s attack flows through Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, while Seattle counters with the speed of Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro. Both sides will try to use their midfielders to get their stars free, and again, both sides have a strong option there, with Osvaldo Alonso sparking the attack for Seattle and Toronto captain Michael Bradley leading the Reds’ assault. However, according to ESPN, Toronto will have to deal with Seattle’s speedy attack.
The keys to this match and deciding who claims the 2016 MLS Cup are likely to be which sides can hold up on the back four and which side can get the most out of their respective goalkeepers. Toronto keeper Clint Irwin conceded five goals in two games against Montreal, but did shut out New York City in consecutive matches. Meanwhile, Seattle keeper and former Toronto man Stefan Frei has kept three clean sheets and has held eight of the Sounders’ past 10 opponents to one goal or fewer.
Readers, who do you expect to lift the trophy? Who do you expect will provide the winning goal? What do you think the final score will be? Sound off in the comments below.
Commentary by Dan Angell