IMAGE: Lodeiro Bradley

Preview | MLS Cup

The Major League Soccer season officially comes to a close this Saturday, Dec. 9, when Toronto FC host the Seattle Sounders in the 2017 MLS Cup at 4 p.m. ET. A rematch of the 2016 championship, the Reds will look to avenge last year's loss in penalty kicks, while the Sounders are pushing to become the first team to repeat as MLS Cup champions since the Los Angeles Galaxy won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012. 

For Toronto, forward Sebastian Giovinco has continued to steal the show, scoring 17 times and adding six assists this season to assert himself as one of MLS' most dangerous weapons. Giovinco's lethal finishing ability has helped catalyze Toronto throughout the season, especially off of set pieces, where the Italian has punished opponents time and time again with perfectly-placed free kicks. 

While opponents have attempted to curb Giovinco's production, the Reds' well-roundedness on the attack has prevented back lines from fully stopping Toronto's firepower. The size and athleticism of Jozy Altidore has allowed the forward to repeatedly out-power defenders, leading to 16 goals and six assists this season, while reliable midfielders Marky Delgado and Victor Vazquez have also remained consistent contributors for the Reds, pitching in three goals/five assists and eight goals/16 assists, respectively. Add in the leadership of U.S. Men's National Team midfielder Michael Bradley and the veteran experience of defenders Justin Morrow and Drew Moor, and Toronto boast a lineup that shows little signs of weakness. 

The Reds may have home pitch advantage and vengeance on the mind come Saturday, but Seattle are pushing to sustain what's been an impressive hot streak in the latter half of the season in order to capture their second straight MLS Cup at BMO Field. 

Historically, the Sounders have held an edge over Toronto, going 7-3-2 all-time against the Reds, including a 4-1-1 record on the road. In their lone meeting of the regular season, Seattle fell to Toronto 1-0 off of a Jozy Altidore penalty kick, but effectively prevented the Reds' attack from scoring in play. 

While Toronto built one of the league's strongest attacks in 2017, Seattle have bunkered down to create a streak of defensive dominance that has helped carry them through the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. Seattle have not conceded a postseason goal in 647 minutes, dating back to the first leg of the 2016 Western Conference Championship. In addition, Seattle are riding a 542-minute shutout streak this year, as the back line have not allowed a goal since Oct. 1.

Saturday will be particularly meaningful for standout defender Joevin Jones, who has already signed a pre-contract with 2. Bundesliga side SV Darmstadt. Jones enjoyed a breakout season from his left back spot, using his speed and vision to thwart opposing wingers and involve himself in the attack, contributing 11 assists from the back line and a spot on the wing. Chad Marshall, the Sounders' 2016 Defender of the Year, continues to anchor the defense, using his 14 years of MLS experience to offer Seattle invaluable veteran leadership alongside fellow center back Román Torres. Goalkeeper Stefan Frei has also remained strong in net for the Rave Green, tallying four saves this postseason to bring his 2017 total to 88 saves. 

Seattle's postseason success has derived from their lock-down defending, but the Sounders' attackmen are also looking to prove they can strike hit-for-hit with Toronto's playmakers. Second-year forward Jordan Morris recently returned from injury for the Sounders, and will strive to provide a vital offensive spark for his hometown team this weekend. Cristian Roldan has shown his ability as one of the league's most versatile midfielders, while Nicolás Lodeiro's cleverness on the wing spurred the Uruguayan to seven goals and 14 assists this season. While Lodeiro, Roldan, and Morris frequently serve as the offensive linchpins for the Rave Green, Seattle's MLS Cup player to watch may be legend Clint Dempsey. After missing the 2016 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, Dempsey returned to the pitch to score a team-high 12 goals this season, adding three more goals in the postseason to lead the Sounders back to the championship. 

With everything to play for—the Reds have the opportunity to win their first MLS Cup and become the first MLS side to win a domestic treble, while the Sounders have the chance to become the fourth team in league history to repeat as champions—Toronto versus Seattle is sure to feature fireworks. 

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