MLS Cup Preview
Toronto and Seattle set for MLS Cup rematch
December 08, 2017
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER WILL CROWN its new champion on Saturday night in Canada when Toronto FC hosts the Seattle Sounders in MLS Cup. Despite it being a rematch of last year’s final, there are no shortage of storylines in this year’s edition.
Certainly most fans will be hoping for a more entertaining final than last year when the teams played to a scoreless tie only to have Seattle emerge victorious in shootout. In that game, Roman Torres and Stefan Frei were standout performers en route to the win with Frei making perhaps the most famous save in the history of the league when he denied a Jozy Altidore header in stoppage time.
The advantage this year, of course, is that Clint Dempsey will be able to participate after a heart condition precluded him from playing last year. Similarly, Sebastian Giovinco will be at full strength after playing the 2016 final injured.
But like 2016, the 2017 final will be played in very cold temperatures and snow is possible. These conditions will make it a lot harder to play an entertaining or attractive championship game. The longer the game remains scoreless, the worse it will but an early goal by either team could open the game up.
Toronto Looking to Lift Canada
Toronto FC has had unprecedented success in 2017. It accumulated the most points ever in a regular season as it coasted to the Supporters’ Shield. It won the Canadian Championship – a tournament for Canadian teams that is similar to the U.S. Open Cup. Now it will seek its first ever MLS Cup.
A Canadian team has never won MLS Cup before and this Toronto team has the best chance to do so. That would be welcome news not only for a sports mad city but also a country that has been starved of soccer success.
For as bad of a year as U.S. Soccer had, Canadian soccer has had a lost decade. The national team can’t even achieve modest goals like qualifying for the Hexagonal tournament or winning a knockout game at the Gold Cup.
A Toronto FC title would be one of the best soccer stories to emerge north of the border and perhaps help grow the sport even further up there.
Giovinco is the Pivotal Figure
Sebastian Giovinco has the most at stake for this game, by far. There has been a lot of talk all week about the American trio of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Clint Dempsey looking to reverse a poor year for American soccer after the national team failure. That is impossible. Not matter what happens on Saturday, 2017 will not be remembered for anything other than missing the World Cup. That doesn’t mean that their respective careers are in tatters or that the book on their accomplishments is closed (in fact, a run to the COCNACAF Champions League title could do that). If they win MLS Cup, it will be a great accomplishment but it won’t define this year.
For Sebastian Giovinco, 30, the story is different. The Italian attacker might be the most dominant player to ever play in MLS since arriving three years ago from Juventus. But to really be able to surpass players like David Beckham, Robbie Keane, and Landon Donovan, he needs to win an MLS Cup.
Giovinco bought into this league from day one and has always played hard with his intensity having carried the team. Now he has a chance to add important silverware to his career and if he is successful, it will help to define him as perhaps the league’s best-ever player.
Roldan and Delgado to Boost Profile
While this game will feature expensive foreign stars along with American players coming off a major international disappointment, there is also the story of two younger American players looking to cement their status as champions. For many that want MLS to serve as a home for young players to boost their profiles, this game will do that for two key players.
Toronto is an expensive team with no shortage of known players but Marky Delgado, 22, is not one of the team’s stars. Still, he made 28 starts this season for over 2300 minutes. The former Chivas USA homegrown and U.S. U-20 midfielder could be in line for a January camp call-up but winning a title could give him all the confidence he needs to become a known player in 2018 – perhaps as a regular with a younger U.S. national team.
Similarly, Cristian Roldan, 22, has already won a championship with Seattle in 2022 and has been capped by the national team. As a regular starter for the Sounders, Roldan had another very good season and emerged as a key player (as opposed to a role player) for a very good team. If he wins a second title, he will have a strong resume to boost a move abroad as he will have accomplished everything the league has to offer at an early age.
Difficult Circumstances Overshadow
But not all is well in 2017 either. This game is being playing in the backdrop of the failure of the United States national team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and Toronto’s Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore have had to bear the scorn of many American fans. While both remain extremely popular in Canada, soccer has been tough to celebrate for many American fans.
But soccer is a global game. Every nation has a domestic league. Even when national teams fail, leagues go on. While it’s easier said than done, club games and national team games need to be viewed independently. Toronto and Seattle fans will surely be engaged but for many neutrals, a dark cloud will hang over MLS Cup.
There is no way around that but hopefully MLS Cup can be more entertaining and well-played than a typical anticlimactic final.
Toronto 2 – 1 Seattle
Toronto scores first from Altidore while Will Bruin equalizes for Seattle. Giovinco gets a second-half winner.