The MLS Playoffs have been wild this season with the new single-elimination format.
We have seen some classic games like FC Dallas coming back in the first round from two different deficits to force extra time at Seattle. The Philadelphia Union came back from a 3-1 deficit to win 4-3 in extra time vs the New York Red Bulls. The first playoff edition El Trafico was insane as LAFC finally beat their crosstown rival LA Galaxy in a 5-3 shootout. Then, Seattle and Toronto shocked the MLS world as they, as underdogs, went into Los Angeles and Atlanta and pulled off shocking road victories to reach the MLS Cup Final.
These two teams have met in the MLS Cup Final before, in fact, they met in the MLS Cup Final in 2016 and 2017 in Toronto. In 2016, Seattle’s goalkeeper Stefan Frei made the most iconic save in MLS history when he miraculously saved Toronto striker Jozy Altidore’s header late in regulation to send it into extra time. Then, Seattle would win 0-0 (5-4 in penalties) to win their first-ever MLS Cup. The two teams met a year later, but this time Toronto won 2-0 with goals by Altidore and Victor Vasquez. Now, they face off two years later for a rubber match that will take place in Seattle.
They were my preseason pick coming into the season as they have a loaded lineup on all sides of the pitch, and this season, it’s been tough for them as they have been ravaged by injuries to all their starters but are now healthy at the right time. They still were able to grind out a two seed in the Western Conference, and once the playoffs hit, this team was ready to show how great they are. They exploded offensively during their 4-3 extra-time over Dallas and was led by a hattrick from MLS Comeback Player of the Year Jordan Morris. Defensively, they struggled versus FC Dallas, but in their next game, the defense shut down Real Salt Lake in a 2-0 victory. But they combined both offensive masterclass and defensive prowess in the performance of the year as Seattle went into LAFC, who had the MVP and had a historic season, and dominated them in all phases of the game and won 3-1 in an emphatic statement.
Seattle is led by a magnificent attacking three with Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, who had 12 assists on the year and scored two brilliant goals vs Real Salt Lake and LAFC in the playoffs. Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz has delivered as their striker with 11 goals on the season and three goals in the playoffs: one vs FC Dallas and two at LAFC. And United States winger Jordan Morris has been an electric playmaker who scored a hattrick vs FC Dallas and is one of the fastest players in the MLS. At midfield, they are led by two defensive anchors and clutch scorers in Cristian Roldan and Gustav Svenson, who scored the game-winning goal vs Real Salt Lake.
Behind them, Kim Kee-Hee and Xavier Arreaga are two solid center backs who helped shut down the attack of LAFC, and they are supported by two of the best fullbacks in the MLS in Brad Smith and Kelvin Leerdam. These two not only support the center backs defensively but add a lot of pace to the dangerous Sounders attack.
At goalkeeper, Stefan Frei gives great consistency and championship experience to this team and he will face off against Toronto once again for a championship.
While some thought the Sounders could make a run to the MLS Cup Finals, very few predicted Toronto FC to make it back as a mediocre four seed and to their third MLS Cup Final in four years. Their ride to the MLS Cup Finals has been a wild one. It started off with four goals in extra time as they defeated DC United 5-1 in extra time. Then, they shocked nearly everyone and went into old Yankee Stadium and knocked off the East’s top team, NYCFC, 2-1, with two goals from midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo. Then, they went into Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Finals and defeated the defending champions, Atlanta United, 2-1 with goals from French midfielder Nicolas Benezet and substitute Nick DeLeon.
At the front of this team is Alejandro Pozuelo, who is a dynamic midfielder who has stepped up in a striker role and has delivered for his team with star striker, Jozy Altidore, still out with injury. Potentially not having Altidore could be a big blow for this team as he has championship experience, but they have gotten here with the great play of Pozuelo, who has become the go-to scorer for this team. Benezet and Japanese winger Tsubasa Endoh give them a solid boost on the attack. Nick DeLeon has been superb for this team with six goals on the season, a goal vs DC in extra time, and their biggest goal of the season, the game-winner at Atlanta.
The midfield is the real strength of this team as Jonathan Osorio, Michael Bradley and Marky Delgado not only have made this team a defensive force in the playoffs but also they step up to score when they need to. Osorio, the hometown hero, has been dynamic for this team since he joined the team in 2013, with five goals and four assists during the season, and stepping up with two extra-time goals vs DC United.
The backline is solid, anchored by Chris Mavinga, but the real star on the defense is goalkeeper Quentin Westburg. He has been a brick wall between the posts as he has only allowed three goals on 17 shots on goal. He made four saves vs DC and five saves at NYCFC and Atlanta United. He is the defensive force that has led this improbable Toronto FC run.
Seattle has a lethal attack, and with the home crowd supporting them, I expect Lodeiro and Morris to ease their way past the Toronto defense, and with a midfield battle evenly matched, I think the difference will be the dynamic attack of the Sounders will be too much for Toronto to beat. The Sounders will fulfill my preseason prophecy and win their second championship in four years.
Prediction: Seattle 2 – Toronto 1