Friday, December 8, 2017

The Silver Mines

In my humble opinion, Saturday's championship match-up between holders Seattle and home-side favorites Toronto FC has every ingredient needed to make it one of the greatest MLS Cup duels in league history. I could see anything happening at BMO Field, all the way from another tightly-played chess match to a seven-goal slugfest.

However the story is written, the winner is going to need to rule specific areas of the field. Lots of folks will expound on player match-ups, and I love that stuff as much as anyone. But, after sizing up this match for a week, I'm thinking the key to victory rides on how Seattle and Toronto FC fare on three pathways to the silver.

Morrow/Vazquez v. Leerdam/Roldan

Yeah, this sounds like player match-ups, but it's more about a corridor between final thirds that will see plenty of four particular guys with the ability to turn a game from there. I know Seattle attacks down the left more than any other MLS team, but they prefer to jet down that flank as opposed to using it for patient build.

Thanks to Morrow, TFC can do that, but the left is also where they like to base their attacks. Their staging zone, if you will. Vazquez will turn up all over the final third, but he loves to fan out there to take a look at the field. The fact that he can release Morrow wide and look to box targets with equal cruelty gives defenders pause, which gives the Reds a little more space to work a dazzler.

This is also a zone where Roldan likes to force turnovers or act as pressure valve, and hop on his horse either way. The more Leerdam can contain Morrow, the easier it will be for Roldan find giddyup situations. A likely outcome is they trade blows on this path, but it would be huge if either team could own it.

The game in front of Roman Torres

This time we're basically talking about the right side of the Seattle box plus, if enough goes well for the Sounders center back, an area that extends some length beyond the 18 in that same channel.

In the leg one win at Houston, Torres was jumping lanes out front of the area, blocked a shot at "the top of the key" (as it were) and threw in some foreboding aerial wins for good measure. The Panama hero did give away a pair of fouls, but both were out toward the flank and halfway to the midfield stripe. He rather effectively extended this field bubble to darn near midfield for most of the game.

On the other hand, there were also a incident that saw Mauro Manotas ghost right through Torres to breach the Seattle box. This sort of thing can't occur against Toronto FC. This is an area where Giovinco wins (and pots) free kicks, where Altidore busts into the area, where the Reds run combos.

When the game is heading at Torres, he needs to be the boss on Saturday. He also needs help from Svensson and Roldan to keep the game from heading at him at pace. The more they step to passers and shooters outside the box, the easier it gets for last year's penalty spot hero to win this difficult battle.

The space between Dempsey & Lodeiro

It may have seemed like all my keys would fall under the "how Seattle can monkey wrench TFC" brand. No way, folks. This is not the 2016 Sounders, and the hosts definitely have a zone to worry about. The thing is, this one is has no fixed location on the pitch. It moves.

One minute, Lodeiro and Deuce will drop deep to help the team cross midfield. A moment later, they're running one-touch game toward the box. Sometimes they are right next to each other, sometimes they're nearly half a field's width apart. But they are always capable of linking up to fatal effect.

Even when they don't have the ball, defenders must take care to account for them. This can grant an extra yard of space to the Sounders buzzing around the Dempsey-Lodeiro orbit, and that's all it takes for a Jones or Rodriguez to make a big play. The two Seattle stars can have an impact with touches or simply through gravitational pull, and it's something Toronto FC has to deal with positively.

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Both clubs have greatly improved since the Sounders' slim win late last year, so I'm counting on more chances being created and a few goals. In my experience, cold players like to stay in motion. These two clubs are talented enough to take advantage of even a few added off-the-ball bursts, so I'd bet against another scoreless 120 minutes.

I can find every reason to pick the Sounders again this year, but it just seems unreasonable to think TFC will blow another home shot at the title. And this time, it's for the treble. I'm calling it: Toronto FC takes it 2-1 on a late Giovinco free kick. That sounds like a fitting way to close the 2017 campaign to me.






- Greg Seltzer

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