Here are the five things we learned from MLS Cup 2017.
1. Toronto Claims Its Place in History
It hadn’t been the easiest of journeys through the playoffs for Toronto FC, but on Saturday evening at BMO Field, they left no doubt as to their place as one of the best MLS team ever assembled.
The game might have hung in the balance until second half stoppage time, but TFC played the Seattle Sounders off the field in their MLS Cup rematch.
Had Stefan Frei not made nine more saves – several of them exceptional – Toronto would have had the game won in the first half. They outshot Seattle by more than three-to-one, had nearly 60 percent possession, and carried the game from start to finish.
It was, at last in the playoffs and especially after last year’s final flop, a championship-worthy performance.
2. Schmetzer Gets The Tactics Wrong
Perhaps with a mind cast back to last year, Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer sent out his most attacking team with the intention of going toe-to-toe with TFC.
It didn’t work. Put quite simply, the Sounders – missing Osvaldo Alonso – didn’t have enough quality to keep the ball and generate offense consistently.
Michael Bradley killed them in midfield, Joevin Jones had his worst game in a month back at fullback, and a team that didn’t give up a goal in their first four playoff games was only saved by Frei from getting blown out in the first half.
Once they got to halftime at 0-0, the Sounders should have brought on Nouhou, moved Jones into midfield, and done anything possible to disrupt Bradley’s rhythm and slow the game down.
Schmetzer made similar adjustments all season, but he was too optimistic here. He waited until after Altidore’s opener to make his first change, and by then it was too late for the Sounders.
Greg Vanney, on the other, got his lineup right. Moving to a seldom-used diamond for the final was a big call, but Vanney has marshaled this team with assuredness and flexibility all year. It paid off in a big way.
3. Redemption for U.S. Stars
No two players have worn the U.S.’s failure to qualify for the World Cup as much as Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, and no two players were bigger on Saturday night.
After spending the last two months getting booed in American stadiums, Bradley – with a staggering 28 defensive actions – put in one of the all-time MLS Cup performances. Altidore, with his one chance, slotted home the winner.
Giovinco and Victor Vazquez were great, as were others, but Bradley and Altidore were TFC’s heart on this run. They were both immense, and they’re both champions. That doesn’t erase the qualifying failure. But legacies, as we know, are complicated things.
4. A Remarkable Turnaround
It is amazing to think about just how far Toronto has come in the last three years.
In the fall of 2014, the club hit a nadir. They had fired manager Ryan Nelsen, Jermaine Defoe had checked out, and the club was in the process of missing the playoffs for an eighth consecutive season.
Things began to change in 2015 when Giovinco and Altidore came aboard, but even that season ended in ignominy: a landslide loss at Montreal in TFC’s first ever playoff appearance.
Since that game, however, Toronto has been the class of the league. They should have won the title last year, and, in adding Victor Vazquez before this season, they stomped to a treble this year.
In the process, TFC has gone from laughingstock to one of the league’s premier clubs both on and off the field. This was a well-deserved triumph.
5. Looking Ahead
We’re entering one of the most pivotal stretches in the recent history of MLS and U.S. Soccer.
In the next several months, MLS will name its next two expansion teams, U.S. Soccer will elect its next president and hire its next senior national team manager, and a decision could be made on the future of the Columbus Crew.
The league, meanwhile – thanks to a huge influx of Targeted Allocation Money – will continue to improve as it builds towards a 2018 season will see the debut of a new stadium in DC and a new team in LA.
It’s going to be an eventful winter.
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