A lot has happened in the intervening three years.
The last time Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders FC faced off was the 2019 MLS Cup Final, where the Sounders won 3-1 in Seattle.
Separated by a continent and a conference, the two sides meet infrequently, but, having clashed three times in the MLS finale, the history of the two clubs is intertwined.
The Sounders won the first in 2016, memorably lifting the trophy at BMO Field on penalty kicks without registering a shot on goal. TFC got their revenge the following season in Toronto to cap off an epic season. Seattle replied on their patch two years later.
“Every time you see Seattle on your schedule, it brings back some memories,” said Alex Bono on Friday. “Some good times and some times that hurt a little bit more.”
“They're always a dangerous team, no matter who they have in the field, no matter how their season is going, where it is. We know that they're going to come and they're going to be up for the game. We share a history, right?” he continued. “It's not just us feeling a certain way, it's them feeling a certain way too and the fact that the last time we met they got the better of us in quite a big game, for the guys who were around, they won't forget those things.”
“It's just another chip on your shoulder when you go into games like this, to bring your best, to come out on top this time,” Bono Added. “Keep writing the history books between the two clubs and keep it going in your favour.”
Seattle have been one of the premier sides in MLS since they joined.
They followed up that 2019 victory with another MLS Cup Final appearance in 2020 – their fourth in a five-year span, losing out to the Columbus Crew, and etched their name in the history books by becoming the first MLS Cup to win the Concacaf Champions League in the modern era, defeating Mexican side UNAM Pumas 5-2 on aggregate earlier this year, pipping Toronto to that summit.
“Seattle is a top team, they proved it winning the Champions League,” reminded Bob Bradley. “Very experienced guys that have been together, play with a hard edge.”
“[Nicolás] Lodeiro has been an important player for them for many years, so active on the field. When you see the way guys like Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris have developed and what they're all about – the way they go forward, but also just what they bring game in and game out. I can go on,” he continued. “Coming out of Champions League the results are a little bit below what everyone would expect for Seattle. They've still played well, they're still capable of being real threats. They took apart Kansas City a couple of weeks ago, they were firing on all cylinders.”
The Sounders enter in good form, despite dropping a midweek home match 2-1 to CF Montreal.
Prior to that, they were unbeaten in four, winning three at home – against Charlotte FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and Sporting KC – with a 1-1 draw against LAFC interspersed. Losses in three of their last four – away to the San Jose Earthquakes, FC Dallas, and the Colorado Rapids – overshadow a 1-0 result at the Houston Dynamo in May.
Morris leads the side with five goals in 13 appearances, while the Roldan brothers, Cristian and Alex, have accounted for nine assists – five and four respectively, with Alex tied with Lodeiro.
Champions League success comes at a cost – Seattle lost João Paulo to a knee injury – but the Sounders are still the Sounders.
“I expect a Seattle team that'll be competitive,” cautioned Bradley. “Their ideas on how they go forward, they create advantages on the flanks and use the speed of Morris. Roldan is a guy who's always on the move, always running, he's got a really good understanding with his brother [Alex]. If Ruidiaz (currently listed as ‘out’) is here, he's one of the best nines in the league with a real knack for finding the right spots and scoring great goals. They're a really good team and we expect a really tough match.”
Seattle has won the last three encounters, including that 2019 final, one league match at home and the other at BMO Field in 2018.
For Toronto, who came up short midweek against Columbus, it is less about the past than it is about looking to the future.
This is a new TFC after all, one still developing.
The club took a big step forward following the June international break in terms of grabbing control of matches and turning those moments into chances. The next step in the evolution is converting more of those chances into goals.
Despite the loss away to the New York Red Bulls, TFC had the chances to get something from that match. The Canadian Championship win over Montreal saw them nab four, but it could have been more. Same in the 2-1 win against Atlanta.
Wasted chances proved costly against the Crew.
“In this last stretch of games, our football from back to front has been quite good,” summarized Bradley. “We've had periods where the fluidity is excellent, the way the ball moves is really good – it moves quicker, it moves forward in the right ways – and now being better around the box.”
“The game against Columbus really comes down to the fact that on both sides of the field when we created the moments and the advantages, we weren't able to do enough. And then in a couple of moments where we needed to defend, we didn't handle a couple of plays,” he continued. “That's how football works.”
“The ability to control games, the ability to be fluid and move the ball, to build up, but now when you get forward, understanding timing, the better decisions: when is it the right time to shoot? Have you set up the shot well enough? Is it a better opportunity to pass?” Bradley outlined. “The collective part of creating chances and ideas has gone quite well. And now on an individual level, that's the work every day to raise the level.”
Saturday is a chance to continue making that progress.
The history between the two clubs is in the past. The 90 minutes lie ahead.
“For me no,” replied Bono, asked if the 2019 defeat still rankled. “The world is different now than it was in 2019 – I think we can all agree on that.”
“Any time you lose a big match, it obviously sticks with you, but over time those feelings start to fade away and you start to look forward to what's next,” he continued. “This is a regular season game against a good opponent. It's on us to show up for a home game and dictate the play and try and get three points. That's what it comes down to.”