Published On: Fri, Dec 8th, 2017

How will Toronto FC deal with revamped Sounders?

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TORONTO – A familiar foe, but with unfamiliar weaponry.

The Seattle Sounders‘ penalty-shootout defeat of Toronto FC in last year’s MLS Cup final was pegged as a poor advertisement for Major League Soccer. The victor arguably had a better squad when it procured the Supporters’ Shield in 2014, but an injury-hit and ageing legion bleakly staved off a free-scoring throng to hoist the Philip F. Anschutz trophy in TFC’s own back yard.

Things have changed dramatically in 12 months.

“They’ve gotten better as a team,” Reds midfielder Jonathan Osorio admitted to theScore. “I think because they won last year, they’ve kind of run off that confidence. They had a really good season because of it.

“This is definitely not the same team we were playing last year, so it’ll be a different game and we’ll be prepared for it.”

There are likely to be only six surviving members from Seattle’s 2016 final starting XI, and the team is better for it. Stefan Frei, defensive duo Roman Torres and Chad Marshall, reinvented winger Joevin Jones, Cristian Roldan, and Nicolas Lodeiro are all pushing for inclusion in Saturday’s clash. The pieces around them will be the products of smart additions since that cup win and, in the case of Clint Dempsey, the return of a veteran who sat out last year’s tie with an irregular heartbeat.


“Over the years, some great-quality players have come into the league or have come back to the league, and (Dempsey) is another example of that. He’s a handful,” Steven Beitashour said in an exclusive chat with theScore. “You’ve got to keep an eye out for him at all times, then you just try to minimize his chances, otherwise he’s deadly in front of goal.”

Dempsey is left to his own devices – almost a return to the drifting No. 10 role he fulfilled behind Bobby Zamora and others at Fulham – and it has given the United States stalwart a new lease of life. Despite his license to roam and therefore confuse opponents between the lines, Beitashour says the 34-year-old will not be tightly tracked.

“I don’t think anyone’s ever man-marking someone,” Beitashour shared of TFC’s gameplan. “I just think we have to be aware of our surroundings and communicate. I think we’re all proactive in that, just trying to react to certain situations, and that’s the key to it.”

Someone who might deserve close attention is Will Bruin. The Missouri native is nicknamed the “Dancing Bear,” but it’s not just because of his mammalian surname. He resembles a rather workmanlike center-forward, yet marries an inherent burliness with technical ability. He can extinguish an aerial bombardment with an unfussy nod down, feathering it into Dempsey’s path.


His arrival in the lead-up to this season was met with some skepticism after a difficult 2016 with the Houston Dynamo, but he has become a critical focal point in attack. He’s a master of holding up the ball, being dispossessed just 1.1 times per 90 minutes this season – for comparison, the bulkier Jozy Altidore‘s number stands at 1.8.

Elsewhere, the emergence of academy find Nouhou has liberated Jones further upfield, and Swedish international Gustav Svensson has gone from backup to someone who regularly fills a variety of positions. The influence of Kelvin Leerdam, unveiled in July after helping Vitesse Arnhem to its first KNVB Cup and hardened in Die Klassieker bouts between Feyenoord and Ajax, also cannot be underestimated.

But it’s the newest member of the shake-up that Toronto FC should be wariest of: the Victor Vazquez-esque Seattle coup of Victor Rodriguez. He’s scoring at a rate of 0.4 goals per 90 minutes, always tries to move the ball forwards, oozes calm, and his respect of space opens more dribbling paths for Lodeiro.

“For the most part, teams that go far in the playoffs, teams that win MLS Cup, have had very stingy defences,” Beitashour told theScore. “I think that’s the case with us in the last couple of games, and you look at Seattle in the last few games, (they) have been very tough to play against.”

That was certainly the tale of last year, but re-tooled Seattle is more complete. Going into Saturday’s final, it is yet to concede in the postseason, and is additionally the playoffs’ top scorer. Seattle isn’t just set up to defend and, if Toronto is unprepared for the wise personnel changes over the past year, the host will suffer again.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)



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