The Seattle Sounders have the distinction (infamy is the term if we are talking Toronto FC fans of winning last year’s Major League Soccer championship without taking a single shot on target.
And no, on the eve of a rematch with the Reds for the MLS Cup, they’re still not going to apologize for this.
“I do not care,” Sounders defender Chad Marshall said when the subject was broached for probably the 874th time because the 2016 Cup was won on penalty kicks. “However we get another ring, just get another ring.”
As a matter of fact, Marshall said, he kind of enjoys the no-shots stat. “I do not mind it,” he said. “I am a centreback. We have the job done. We had been coming in here, we were the away team, we’ve to play with it a little defensive.
“Every team is much more comfortable in the home. You examine the records throughout the league, everybody has a better home record than away record. You’re going to need to be strong defensively on the road.”
No MLS team was more comfortable at home this year than TFC. The Reds lost only 1 match at BMO Field in 2017, sporting a 13-1-3 record. The Sounders were 3-8-6 on the road this year, although they won both of their road games in the playoffs on the way to winning the Western Conference.
However, the Sounders are a far better team offensively this time around. They started six unique players at the Western Conference final, against the Houston Dynamo, than they did in last year’s Cup final against the Reds and ripped Dynamo 5-0 on aggregate at the two-game series.
The additions of midfielder Victor Rodríguez and forward Will Bruin, together with the return to health of striker Clint Dempsey, who missed last year’s playoffs due to an irregular heartbeat, make Seattle more volatile than last year. The Reds will also be better this time, with greater depth and their particular Spanish Victor, the midfielder Vazquez, giving them a stronger offence, also.
That’s the reason nobody should put much weight on TFC’s 1-0 regular-season triumph in Seattle last May, the only meeting between the teams this year.
“I believe we were a very different squad and so were they,” Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei said of this game. “The two Victors on either side were enormous additions for each group.
“I believe in the early part of our season we’re still searching for our identity a bit and work with it. We got better with this as the season progressed. As far as them, I’m convinced they are a very different side also. In confidence, winning the [club tournament] and the Supporters’ Shield, that should go a long way.”
Frei says that the addition of Vazquez into the Reds’ midfield has improved the scoring power of strikers Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, as occurred with the insertion of Rodríguez to the Sounders’ midfield. Dempsey and Bruin are a lot more effective today and the assault has more weapons.
“For those who have multiple attacking threats, then it is difficult for opponents to remove them all,” Frei said. “We all know somebody like [Dempsey] is about to get a good deal of attention. Someone like Victor [Rodríguez] is going to really like that because he is lethal himself. Whichever player on our attacking area will get the focus, the other ones will be sure and take advantage of it.”
This led some of the Sounders to forecast a much more wide-open match on Saturday in BMO Field.
“I believe we know how great we are. We want to attempt and come out and take it to them,” midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “Obviously, things change throughout the game and you have got to accommodate but our mentality coming to the game is we are going to attempt to come out and perform and score some goals.”
Not that the veteran defender Marshall is buying into that. He doesn’t believe the weather, which may get snowy, is going to be a large element. But the simple fact it’s TFC’s home game means Seattle has to come out in a defensive state of mind.
“Here it is their field,” Marshall said. “We are going to be strong defensively and make sure we are that way, not get spread out. [TFC] is capable of scoring plenty of goals. We have got to be smart defensively like we were last year. I do feel like we are a much better offensive team than last year so hopefully we can find a couple on the other end.”
The question of pressure was a regular topic in the buildup to the MLS Cup. Toronto head coach Greg Vanney said last week that he is not sure the Sounders are prepared for the intensity of a Cup final since they had an easier road to the match thinking about the top five teams in MLS play in the Eastern Conference. This attracted a return dart from Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer on Thursday, when he was asked if Vanney’s remarks provided any motivation.
“You could say the pressure is on them,” Schmetzer said. “There is no pressure on us. They are at home. If he’s saying this to receive his men grip, somehow, some way, that is his business. Greg is a great guy and a fantastic coach. If you guys believe, or anyone thinks that we want locker-room blackboard material, then you guys are sadly mistaken because my group is all set. I don’t have to put that up on the board.”
Courtesy: The Globe And Mail