TORONTO – To be back in the MLS Cup Final for a second year in a row is one thing. To have the chance to rectify a wrong against the same foe... that is something entirely different.
Toronto FC will have just such an opportunity next Saturday at BMO Field (4 pm ET | ESPN, UniMas, TSN, TVAS) when they face the Seattle Sounders in a 2017 MLS Cup fixture that is a rematch of last year's final
Last December, Seattle came to town, put in a dogged performance and rode Stefan Frei's unbelievable save in added time to a 5-4 penalty shootout victory in 2016 MLS Cup after 120 minutes of scoreless soccer.
And although that motivated Toronto generally in their return to this year's final, getting another crack against the Sounders is even sweeter.
“We first and foremost had our business to take care of [in the playoffs], but once we did, guys were watching, hoping for a shot to play Seattle again," admitted coach Greg Vanney. "From an emotional perspective, it adds a whole lot more to this game than if it were to be Houston. Nothing against Houston, it just [wouldn't] have the same feel coming off a year ago.”
Defender Steven Beitashour agreed.
“From last year's finish to now, this is all we've wanted,” he said.
Vanney expects to watch the video of the final this week for the first time in a long time. When he does, the lessons will be as much emotional as strategic.
“Getting the feeling you had of last year... that is an important reminder,” Vanney said. “I'll look at a few things tactically, but we're two different teams; have had a whole year behind us to learn, to grow, and to evolve. I take more out of what I watch more recently than what happened last year.”
Defender Justin Morrow says despite last year's heartbreak, there was never any doubt TFC would respond with a strong 2017 campaign.
“The loss last year was devastating,” he said. “But I knew we were going to have another good year: the team was intact, we added some key pieces, got better. That was encouraging to know we were going to have another strong run at it.”
With Seattle again looming between Toronto and a trophy, Morrow says there's no use in pretending last year won't be on everyone's mind.
“It's inevitable,” he said. “There is the history there. We'll think of last year, go back over that match, how we felt, individually and as a team."
And despite the difficulty of reaching consecutive finals, Morrow says the only way his team will leave this season satisfied is by winning the trophy they came so close to last season.
“I don't think this team will ever be satisfied until we win MLS Cup," he said. "That's our big goal. Especially with last year, having lost it at home. It's still heavy on our minds that we want to win at home in front of our fans.”
Toronto expects a very different match this time around.
"There are goals in this game," Vanney said. “Both will want to win in regulation. Both have been quite stingy defensively, but both have potent attacks and will look for ways to win the game."
Vanney also suggested that his side may have to use Seattle's improvement on offense in 2017 to their own advantage.
“[Seattle] would like to try to win in this game in an image more like they have been winning games [this post-season],” he suggested. “That might lead to the game finding some space and chances being created on both sides.”
Toronto took some solace from their 1-0 regular season win in Seattle back in May, but that certainly won't take much of an edge away from Saturday's occasion.
“It's a team that beat us in the final last year, that's what they are,” defender Eriq Zavaleta said on Thursday. “It's a club that I want to beat more than any other, not because I played there, but because they took something away from us last year. We're not going to let anybody do that again.”