Published On: Thu, Dec 7th, 2017

5 key battles that will decide the MLS Cup final

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The snowy Saturday forecast at BMO Field has elicited calls for the orange ball, but Toronto FC will care little of the conditions in its hunt for redemption. Instead, the revamped Reds are focused only on defeating the Seattle Sounders to wrap up a record-breaking year. Seattle will relish a return to Toronto, though, and good form has the team confident it can repeat its heroics from 2016.

Here are five battles that will determine the winner of the 2017 MLS Cup:

Nicolas Lodeiro vs. Justin Morrow

Fleet-footed and versatile, Nicolas Lodeiro is Seattle’s key difference-maker, crafting a dozen chances and seven goals in 33 appearances this year, even after being moved out wide to the right. That touchline shift added much-needed dimension to Seattle’s attack, which Toronto might need to address by moving one of its own vital attacking pieces into a supporting defensive role.

High-flying wing-back Justin Morrow, scorer of eight goals this season, might have to sacrifice his attacking freedoms to keep tabs on Lodeiro, but if the 30-year-old’s instructions prioritize dropping back to defend, Toronto loses a key part of its own attacking dimension, too. Will Morrow be allowed to roam free, and, if so, would Lodeiro effectively exploit that space?

Jozy Altidore vs. Stefan Frei

Stefan Frei‘s miraculous save on Jozy Altidore‘s header preserved a deadlock over 120 minutes last year, and both players will be hungry to deny the other once more, whether on the scoreboard or for a clean sheet. Altidore has a chip on his shoulder, having been denied his game-winner, but the real battle might be one of wills, as both have struggled with injuries in the buildup to this match.

Whether it’s Frei’s sore hamstring or Altidore’s bruised ankle, surviving the entirety of this affair adds another layer of concern to two direct competitors. This might simply come down to which one staves off pain the longest.

Clint Dempsey vs. Michael Bradley

Two icons of the U.S. men’s national team will clash when Michael Bradley is tasked with keeping Clint Dempsey on lockdown. Both leaders also work tirelessly to implement their team’s ideas, with Bradley organizing Toronto’s defensive look and Dempsey spearheading the Sounders’ offense from the No. 10 hole.

Dempsey’s ability to execute chances could be the X-factor Seattle needs to triumph over Toronto once again, but Bradley’s astute space-management skill and awareness present the biggest obstacle yet to that clear path to goal.

Sebastian Giovinco vs. Roman Torres

Big man in green squares off with tiny man wearing red – no, this is not the latest Marvel crossover featuring The Incredible Hulk and Ant-Man (even though that would be amazing). Instead, Sebastian Giovinco has giant central defender Roman Torres standing in between himself and goal – a matchup that proved tricky for the Italian last time around.

Giovinco complained of poor field conditions at BMO Field last year, but his biggest obstacle was Torres, who barely allowed the Atomic Ant an opportunity to touch the ball. Can Giovinco get the better of his Panamanian counterpart this time around?

Victor Vazquez vs. Cristian Roldan

Toronto FC identified a need for an attacking midfielder a few seasons ago, but only just acquired the right man this year in Victor Vazquez. His addition made Toronto’s offense click in a new way, and if the Sounders are indeed without Ozzie Alonso in midfield due to injury, keeping an eye on the Spaniard is a task that falls on Cristian Roldan instead.

Like Bradley’s task of containing Dempsey, Roldan will have his hands full if he is to adequately cut off the supply route provided by the wily Spaniard. If he’s up to the task, Toronto FC’s attack would certainly suffer for it, but Vazquez has made short work of tougher defensive midfielders than Roldan through 2017.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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