Seattle XI

KNOW YOUR OPPONENT: Seattle Sounders FC

It could not have been anybody else. 

With Thursday night's match having determined who will represent the Western Conference in the 2017 MLS Cup Final, Toronto FC now know who they will meet on December 9 at BMO Field.

For the second-straight season, TFC will square off at home against Seattle Sounders FC in the final match of the 2017 MLS season to determine who will lift the Philip F. Anschutz trophy.

Familiar though they may be, with the cup on the line, it is essential to know the opponent...

SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC

The third Seattle-based club to play under the Sounders moniker, they trace their history back to 1974 and those legendary NASL days.

The MLS iteration was founded in November of 2007 and began play in the 2009 season.

Playing out of CenturyLink Field, formerly Qwest Field, a home they share with the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, Sounders FC have been ever present in these MLS Cup Playoffs, reaching the post-season in each of their nine seasons in the league.

Over those years, they have amassed a solid cabinet of silverware, including four U.S. Open Cups (2009, 2010, 2011, 2014), two Western Conference Championships (back-to-back in 2016 and 2017, like TFC), a single Supporters' Shield (2014), and, of course, the 2016 MLS Cup.

Led by Clint Dempsey, Chad Marshall, Nicolas Lodeiro, Stefan Frei, and Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle look very much like the side that Toronto met last season at this stage, but they too have strengthened over the intervening year.


HOW THEY GOT HERE

Sounders FC finished second in the Western Conference after the 34-match regular season. Though level on 54 points with the Portland Timbers and with a better goal-differential (+13 to the Timbers +10), Portland's additional win (15 to 14) proved the difference as the first tie-breaker in the MLS standings.
 
A bye through the Knockout Round saw Sounders FC clash with fellow Cascadia side Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the Western Conference Semifinal. A scoreless draw in the first leg on the road set up a 2-0 win back home for Seattle, both goals scored by Dempsey in the second half, that saw them move on to the next round via a 2-0 aggregate scoreline.

Come the Western Conference Championship, they squared off with the Houston Dynamo, who upset the top-seeded Timbers in the previous round.

Gustav Svensson gave Sounders FC an early lead in the away leg, before a red card to Jalil Anibaba reduced the Dynamo to 10 men and gifted the visitors a chance to double their advantage from the penalty spot. Houston keeper Joe Willis would make the save, but Will Bruin added a second road goal before the first half ended to put one foot into the final for Seattle.

Back home for the second leg, Victor Rodriguez all but ended Houston's hopes of a comeback with an opening goal for Seattle in the 22nd minute. Dempsey and Bruin added strikes in the second half to round out a 3-0 win that saw Sounders FC into the MLS Cup Final via a 5-0 aggregate series win.


HEAD-TO-HEAD

Two sides credited with the advent of MLS 2.0—bringing a new wave of fan passion into the league with their additions in 2007 and 2009—meetings between Toronto and Seattle have been rare.

Separated a conference and over 4,000 kilometers, Toronto and Seattle have only met 12 times in the regular season over nine seasons. 

Sounders FC hold the series lead with seven wins to Toronto's three, the other two matches ending in draws. It is worth noting that seven of the 12 have been played in Seattle over the years and since a five-match Sounders winning streak that spanned from 2010 to 2013, TFC have turned the series in their favour, winning two of the next four matches and drawing another; Sounders FC's only regular season win over that spell came back in 2015.

This year, on May 6, the Reds travelled to Seattle in the midst of a jam-packed schedule and came away with a 1-0 win thanks to a 23rd minute Jozy Altidore penalty kick. 

Toronto were without several starters – Sebastian Giovinco, Victor Vazquez, Drew Moor, Eriq Zavaleta, and Steven Beitashour – earning a modicum of revenge with an expert away performance.

The two have met once in the playoffs: last season's MLS Cup Final.


NOTABLE MATCHES

While the meetings have been few, there have been plenty of memorable encounters over the years: Seattle's first visit to BMO Field in 2009, where goals from Freddie Ljungberg and Steve Zakuani led to a 2-0 win; a 2010 match saw Dwayne De Rosario gave visiting Toronto a lead, only for Seattle to storm back with three unanswered goals before Chad Barrett ensured an interesting, if unsuccessful, conclusion as Seattle won 3-2; a Jermain Defoe first half brace in his MLS debut in 2014 that led to a 2-1 TFC win in Seattle with Dempsey responding late for Sounders FC. 

But those all pale in comparison to what happened on December 10, 2016 when the two met in the MLS Cup Final.

Toronto were flying high, having powered past the Philadelphia Union, New York City FC, and the Montreal Impact en route to their first final, while Seattle had risen from Sigi Schmid's midseason removal to the title decider under the steady hand of Brian Schmetzer with some considerable assistance from mid-summer acquisition Nicolas Lodeiro.

On a frigid night by the shores of Lake Ontario, Toronto huffed and puffed, but could not find a means past Stefan Frei in the Seattle goal, who pulled off a spectacular save on Altidore deep into stoppage-time setting up a penalty kick shootout.

Though Sounders FC memorably did not manage a single shot on goal throughout the 120 minutes, Roman Torres' spot kick would seal the title 5-4 on penalty kicks.

It was a result that fuelled TFC to a historic campaign in 2017.


NUMBERS

Seattle have reached the final on the back of an impressive shutout streak. Despite Frei missing a match, Sounders FC, with Tyler Miller stepping in between the posts in the first leg against Houston, have yet to conceded in these MLS Cup Playoffs through four matches, outscoring their opponents 7-0 in the process.

Adding in last year, Sounders FC have not conceded a goal in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in some 647 minutes. 

Having ended the regular season with a pair of clean-sheets against FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids, Seattle last saw their defences breached on October 1 against Philadelphia in a 2-0 loss – a span of 542 minutes.

Dempsey, with three goals, leads the side through this post-season, while Will Bruin has added two.

The same duo led Sounders FC through the regular season with Dempsey scoring 12 goals and Bruin 11. Nicolas Lodeiro added seven and Cristian Roldan nabbed six; Jordan Morris had three in his sophomore MLS campaign.

Lodeiro led the side with 12 assists, while Joevin Jones contributed 11 helpers this season from his left-back position.


FAMILIAR FOES

Stefan Frei, Sounders FC goalkeeper and MVP of the 2016 MLS Cup Final, began his career with Toronto FC in 2009, starting 82 MLS matches and winning four Voyageurs Cups. Frei departed in a trade with Seattle in December 2013 having made 99 appearances for TFC in all competitions.

Eriq Zavaleta is the only Toronto player who has spent time in Seattle, having been drafted by Sounders FC in 2013, making five appearances that season. His first MLS goal came against Seattle in 2015.

On the international front, this series will pit countrymen against one another. Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris, and Brad Evans from Seattle have all represented the US men's national team, while Toronto's contingent of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Justin Morrow have done the same. 

In addition, a pair of World Cup-bound Panamanians will be squaring off in the MLS showcase match, as Toronto's Armando Cooper will meet up with Roman Torres, who scored the late-goal that sent Panama to their first World Cup.

The series will also see old friendships rekindled. Robin Fraser was teammates with Chad Marshall for two seasons at Columbus Crew SC in 2004 and 2005, helping to welcome the rookie defender to MLS. Two Victors from Barcelona will also renew acquaintances as Toronto's Vazquez and Seattle's Rodriguez both spent time with Catalan giants FC Barcelona in their youth. Seattle's general manager Garth Lagerway also shared time with Toronto's Greg Vanney and Bill Manning at Real Salt Lake.

In addition, Joevin Jones was once a trialist at TFC before joining the Chicago Fire for the 2015 season ahead of a move to Sounders FC for the 2016 season.


In a week, the 2017 MLS Cup champion will be crowned. Who's excited?