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As Sounders try to repeat, Toronto FC seeks MLS Cup redemption
Those narratives dominate the storylines for Saturday's MLS Cup at BMO Field in Toronto.
Seattle Sounders FC bids to become the first back-to-back champions since the Los Angeles Galaxy defeated the Houston Dynamo in 2011 and '12. Like the Galaxy, Seattle is facing the same opponent in consecutive finals.
Last season, Seattle won its first MLS Cup by winning the penalty kick shootout 5-4 against Toronto FC after the teams played to a scoreless draw through 120 minutes.
It was a bitter defeat for Toronto in front of its home fans because Seattle became the first team in the history of the MLS Cup (which dates to 1996) to not have a shot on goal in regulation or the 30-minute extra time.
"This is more about our club, this city, and what it means after the heartbreak of last year," Toronto captain Michael Bradley said. "In the back of our minds, this is all we've wanted, to give ourselves another shot."
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said all the burden is on Toronto because TFC this season posted the most points (69) ever in MLS and the second-best points-per-game average (2.03) to the 1998 Los Angeles Galaxy (2.13).
"There's no pressure on us. They're at home," Schmetzer said.
Toronto was 20-5-9 in the regular season but had to battle through two difficult rounds of the playoffs. They beat the New York Red Bulls on away goals in the two-game aggregate quarterfinal series, and then defeated Columbus 1-0 in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Final following a 0-0 first leg.
"We played from the front the entire season," Toronto coach Greg Vanney said. "We've had the pressure of trying to win the Supporters' Shield (most points in MLS), the pressure of trying to set history. Everyone has talked to us about pressure the whole way, this is no different. If we stay focused on the process, the outcome will follow."
Seattle (14-9-11) cruised past Vancouver and bested Houston by a 5-0 aggregate to win the Western Conference.
There is star power on both teams. Toronto is led by 2015 league MVP Sebastian Giovinco (16 goals, six assists in 25 games this season) and Jozy Altidore (15 goals, six assists in 25 games). Altidore injured his ankle prior to scoring the series winner vs. the Crew but is expected to start Saturday. Bradley, of course, is captain for the U.S. National Team.
Seattle's Clint Dempsey, a U.S. teammate of Altidore and Bradley, missed last year's MLS Cup due to an irregular heartbeat. Dempsey led Seattle in the 2017 regular season with 12 goals in 29 games.
"It was tough not being on the field, not being with the guys," he said. "I'm happy to be back playing again, with an opportunity to battle."
Another U.S. forward, Seattle forward Jordan Morris, made a brief appearance in the second leg vs. Houston after missing 10 weeks due to a hamstring strain. He could be another option for the Sounders' attack.
Updated December 7, 2017