Preview: MLS Cup Final

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Preview: MLS Cup Final

Raul Ruidiaz of the Seattle Sounders
cr. USA Today Images

Raul Ruidiaz of the Seattle Sounders cr. USA Today Images

Raul Ruidiaz of the Seattle Sounders cr. USA Today Images

Raul Ruidiaz of the Seattle Sounders cr. USA Today Images

J. J. Post, '20, Staff Writer

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This weekend the most unique title deciding system in global soccer will reach its culmination when the Seattle Sounders take on Toronto FC in the MLS Cup Final. This particular matchup has been a staple in recent MLS Cup Final memory, as the two teams clashed to decide the league’s champion in both the 2016 and 2017 campaigns (with each club winning one final). This year, neither team was the favorite heading into the playoffs in their respective conferences, but each proved themselves to be serious contenders as they navigated the bracket, and their matchup looks to be a fascinating one.

 

Key Players for the Sounders

Jordan Morris- One of the big boosts the Sounders have gotten has been the resurgence of forward and American international Jordan Morris. Morris, who has been in the spotlight for strong USMNT performances this fall, was named MLS comeback player of the year this season following his return from a devastating ACL injury with a 10 goal and 7 assist campaign. The 25 year old Washington native has continued his hot form throughout the postseason- most notably grabbing a hat trick to help Seattle outlast FC Dallas in a 4-3 shootout in the first round of the Cup. Morris is explosive and has bags of pace, but what sets him apart from the standard MLS winger is his finishing qualities and aerial prowess- making it hard for opposing teams to match him up with both fullbacks as well as centerbacks.

Raul RuidiazTaking the field up top with Morris for the final on Sunday will almost certainly be the star of the Seattle attack, Ruidiaz. Ruidiaz, 29, has been electric since he first transferred to the Sounders as a Designated Player in 2018, racking up 21 goals in 36 games, including a brace in the last round as Settle upset top-seeded LAFC in the conference final. Though he stands just 5’7, the Peruvian makes up for his small stature with dynamic movement both off and with the ball and is one of the most clinical strikers in the league once he gets around goal. 

Nicolas Lodeiro/Christian Roldan- A key factor in any Sounder success on Sunday will be their play in midfield. And there is plenty of reason to imagine there will be quality performances for Seattle in the center of the pitch thanks to the duo of Loderio and Roldan. Each technically would be classified as attacking and defensive midfielders, respectively, but the work they do outside of that designation is what is so beneficial to their side’s play. Lodeiro is creative and groundbreaking with his passes, and possesses a strong finishing touch, but he also is unafraid to track back and aid in creating a defensive shape when the opponent is on the attack. Roldan is known for breaking up play and angling passes, but he can also get into the box and put the ball in the net on the frontfoot as well. 

 

Key Players for Toronto FC

Alejandro Pozuelo- There are few traits worth more in an athlete than the ability to remain cool in crunch time and Toronto’s star Spaniard is ice cold. Pozuelo only just arrived in MLS this year following a transfer from the Belgian League, but he has wasted no time taking the league by storm. Becoming known for his signature “chip” shot, the attacker utilized such a floating effort to embarrass one of MLS’s top keepers, Sean Johnson, twice in the regular season and once in the playoffs, the latter being a last minute game winner. With Jozy Altidore presumably out for the final, the bulk of Toronto’s scoring chances will likely fall to Pozuelo.

Michael Bradley- Everyone’s favorite still-USMNT-caliber (apparently) midfielder will need to be at the top of his game if Toronto want to take control of this final. I’ll refrain from making any more “People’s Champ” jokes because, in all honesty, Bradley is a quality MLS player. Love him or hate him, he is the Reds’ captain, leader, and metrodome in midfield. He has the ability to break up plays and keep the tempo, and if he’s on form Toronto can ensure that the game is played to their style and liking. Just don’t ask him to take any penalties.

Quentin Westberg- The man charged with shutting down Ruidiaz and co. will be the 33-year-old Westberg, who became an instant hero last week after he saved Josef Martinez’s penalty and helped shift the momentum to Toronto’s favor in the conference final. Another 2019 transfer for Toronto, Westberg has revived his career up North, doubling his starts from his previous two years in France in just one season for Toronto.

 

The Pick

These two teams are about as well matched as they’re going to get, and managers Brian Schmetzer and Greg Vanney both will have plenty to think about given these two team’s prior final history. In the end, however, CenturyLink Field will be rocking for the Sounders, and Seattle will ride the home field (and with early forecasts calling for rain at kickoff, home weather) advantages to a victory off a late Morris winner.

Sounders 2 – Toronto 1

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