Published On: Thu, Dec 7th, 2017

Brawl, chess match good preparations for TFC's MLS Cup bid

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Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images Sport / Getty

TORONTO – The weather is a popular topic among Canadians. For the MLS Cup final rematch between Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders, it’s been no different.

When the quality of the teams is so close, it’s natural to look at extra-curricular aspects to try to uncover an advantage for either side. Travel and support are regularly pawed-at theses, but citing the impact of Saturday’s weather as a determining factor is questionable when the conditions will be almost identical to last year’s taut affair. Even if snow flicks into BMO Field like a fusillade of bullets, the differences between these squads, and how they react, will remain incredibly slim.

It’s solely the on-pitch lessons that will pull one side through this final and, on this occasion, Greg Vanney’s side has benefited from a valuable dress rehearsal.

In 2016, blankets and layers of long johns, hidden pajamas, jogging pants, and jeans wouldn’t suffice in the temporary seating that loomed precariously over the south stand. On the park, however, the coldest fronts Toronto met were Osvaldo Alonso, the shovel-like left palm of Stefan Frei, and, for Justin Morrow, the crossbar. After the wing-back crashed his sixth-round penalty off the woodwork, Roman Torres confidently sent his into the roof of the net. Seattle secured its first Philip F. Anschutz trophy without a registering shot on target in 120 minutes.

The match was very different from TFC’s two double-headers before it – a 7-0 aggregate bashing of New York City FC, and 7-5 classic Eastern final against the Montreal Impact – and perhaps exposed an inability to dig in and grind out results. That is often a characteristic of champions, just as the Sounders showed.

Toronto’s preparation for 2017’s meeting is different, and has been hugely beneficial.

“I think we’ve just come up against teams that are trying to stifle the way we play instead of trying to impose their own style of play,” Morrow told theScore on Wednesday of this postseason’s conservative affairs. “The Columbus (Crew) series… it felt like a chess match, and the New York (Red Bulls) series just felt like a brawl. So I think the final will be somewhere in between there and it’ll be good for us.”

No longer is the primary focus on Sebastian Giovinco-centric attacks after subsuming the Red Bulls and Columbus over four jittery and low-scoring legs. There is now an interest in the names who’ve previously flown under the radar. Primarily, that resolute defence.

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

Morrow recognized the wealth of teammates who “put the team ahead of everything else,” while Drew Moor, the back-three’s nucleus, lavished praise on Chris Mavinga and goalkeeper Alex Bono.

“I’ve been really impressed since I’ve come here with the amount of work that everybody puts in on the defensive side,” Moor explained to reporters.

The moments that have kept TFC’s MLS Cup run alive have been predominantly defensive. Crucial interventions like Michael Bradley‘s 30-yard dash and tackle on Justin Meram in the opening leg against the Crew, and notable saves from Bono to thwart Bradley Wright-Phillips and Harrison Afful.

There seems to be great relish this year in mucking in and carving out victories where chances would have been squandered or sloppy goals admitted in 2016’s madcap trail.

“Once you get numbers behind the ball, it’s a lot easier (for) everybody to do their job. I think it’s just our group – for the last two years, specifically – has been really concentrated on being a good defending group and everybody’s played their role in that,” Vanney shared with theScore.

He added: “The basis of good teams are good defending.”

Wannabe meteorologists will perceive gritted teeth in defence this weekend as evidence of a typically frightful winter’s day in Canada. Instead, it will be a manifestation of a new-look, steely Toronto FC looking to anchor in, forging a foundation for Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, and Victor Vazquez to explore ways to rock the Sounders.

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