Toronto FC (-250) vs Seattle Sounders (+185)
The MLS is taking a page from the NBA this year, treating fans to a championship rematch. The Seattle Sounders made easy work of the Houston Dynamo on Thursday, setting up their second straight MLS Cup final against Toronto FC (Sunday, Dec. 9, BMO Field, Toronto)
The Sounders trounced Houston in their two-game Western Conference final, winning 2-0 on the road and 3-0 at home. Toronto had a tougher time securing the Eastern Conference, drawing against Columbus away and snatching a 1-0 win at home.
Both sides will enter the MLS Cup with at least a modicum of confidence. Seattle is not only coming off a dominant semifinal performance, but also managed to beat Toronto (on penalties) in the MLS Cup final last year. Toronto’s optimism will come from the fact that they somehow lost the 2016 final even though they didn’t allow a single shot on target. TFC also tallied 69 points over the regular season, breaking the MLS record, and will be playing at home.
Recent Record and Form
If we only consider the regular season, then no team even comes close to Toronto FC (20-9-5, 69 points). The Supporters’ Shield-winners finished the year 12 points ahead of their nearest rivals and sporting a whopping +37 goal differential.
The Seattle Sounders (14-11-9, 53 points) had a decent regular season as well. The Western Conference was far more competitive than its east-coast counterpart, and the Sounders managed to finish the season in second place. They were tied on points with Portland, the conference leaders, but missed out on the top spot due to tiebreakers.
The playoffs tell a slightly different story. Prior to eking out a win over Columbus, Toronto FC barely survived the quarterfinals against the New York Red Bulls. They landed an impressive 2-1 win at Red Bull Arena, but then lost the second leg 1-0 at home. Their two away goals were enough to send them through to the conference finals, but the Red Bulls were inches from eliminating the cup favorites.
Seattle had a relatively easy time advancing to the MLS Cup finals. They held the Whitecaps to a 0-0 draw in Vancouver, and methodically picked them apart on home soil (2-0). Then they faced Houston in the Western conference final and trounced them both at home and away.
If we take a broad look at the entire season, then Toronto FC is clearly in better form. But if we only consider the playoff games, then the Sounders have the edge.
Players to Watch
A 60th-minute goal by a battered Jozy Altidore was what it took to for TFC to clinch the win over the Crew. Their star striker, who was left hobbling after a hard collision earlier in the match, was subbed off shortly after scoring. He’s now nursing an ankle injury and it’s unclear whether he’ll recover in time for the final. Altidore was suspended for the first-leg match against Columbus, and TFC struggled to string together a viable attack in his absence. If he’s not at his best next Saturday, Toronto will be a significantly diminished side.
As usual, Clint Dempsey is the main man to watch for Seattle. His two goals against the Whitecaps got them through to the semifinals and he’s saved the Sounders countless times over the regular season. That’s not to say that the Sounders are a one-man team, though. Far from it. Players like Cristian Roldan and Nicolás Lodeiro have also been spectacular this season and should play a key role on Saturday.
Pick: Seattle Sounders (+185)
Once again, Toronto FC are the favorites to claim the MLS Cup this year. The two teams have met just once this year, and Toronto came out on top with a 1-0 win. TFC have been the more consistent side this season and they carry perhaps the deepest squad in MLS history. However, the TFC we’ve seen during the playoffs is a lesser version of the one we witnessed during the regular season. Meanwhile, the Sounders have looked spectacular in their last few games.
Bodog places TFC at -250 odds (70% favorites), which is a little too generous considering how they recently struggled against NYRB and Columbus, not to mention the uncertain status of Altidore. The Sounders are rightful underdogs, but still the better value at +185.