MLS Cup

There Is No D in TFC: Seattle Sounders on the Attack

The hype continues as the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC prepare for MLS Cup on Saturday.

Your humble blogger is all riled up for the chance to see the Boys in Rave Green bring home the Cup. I’ve dissed the East, I’ve tossed shade at MLS policy and now I’m gonna dissect our opponent, TFC.

When you think Toronto, you think Giovinco, Altidore and Bradley. Then you think, Oh crap. We’re in trouble. Giovinco isn’t just a brand name, the wee man has 78 points (G +A) in just 67 total MLS games. That’s right, Giovinco averages over a point a game. Altidore is no slouch either in his second stint in the league, with 37 in 54. This dominance was obvious to anyone who watched TFC’s offense in the Eastern Conference clinching victory last Wednesday. The Reds were en fuego: Altidore and Giovinco slicing and dicing, Bradley running box-to-box and the Reds scoring 5 goals and 7 on aggregate. Bonkers! Surely Seattle is quaking in their green boots at the prospect of facing that offensive juggernaut.

But Toronto needs a frightening attack because their backline has always been laughable. Defense is quite the unicorn in the 6ix. Coaches have come and gone, but before Greg Vanney this season, the Reds have always been generous. Since MLS adopted the 34 game schedule in 2011, TFC averages just over 53 GA a season, or 1.56 a game. This year, TFC only conceded 39 goals (for their first season with a sub-40 GA since ’11), really helped that average. In quick contrast, the Sounders are at 40 GA a season, 1.18 a game in that span.

This past offseason, after a 3-nil drubbing by Montreal in TFC’s first taste of the playoffs, the Reds spent a lot of time and money addressing this glaring weakness. Drew Moor, Steven Beitashour, Will Johnson (ohhhhhh I hates Will Johnson) and Clint Irwin were all brought in to be the yin to the Gio/Altidore/Bradley triumvirate’s yang.

So is this the new-look, defensive-minded Toronto Vanney had in mind? Not really. Toronto’s backline made Montreal’s attack look competent. TFC hemorrhaged 5 goals to the Impact in that series. Montreal, by no stretch of the imagination a potent attacking team (they scored 49, conceded 53), lit Toronto up! Part of that 7-5 score line can be chalked up to context: the Eastern Conference just plays fastbreak soccer. The East teams all score and ship goals with equal aplomb and the best matches feature arcade-like scores, just like the Toronto-Montreal treat. But yeah, Toronto ships goals.

Vanney knows his 3-5-2 alignment employs a very porous 3-man backline. Eriq Zavaleta is Toronto’s starting right back. One more time: Eriq Zavaleta is Toronto’s starting left back. A former forward who couldn’t get minutes for a CB-hungry team in Seattle (remember when we were trotting out Ianni and Hurtado and a defunct Djimi) is starting on the backline of the Eastern Conference champs. Vanney’s alignment lives and dies with the whole “the best defense is a good offense” cliché. If Seattle can pressure the fullbacks to retreat and make Toronto play a 5-3-2, it’s gonna be another long Toronto offseason hunting for defenders and excuses.

 

Seattle Sounders Should Host MLS Cup

The Seattle Sounders travel to BMO field in Toronto for Saturday’s MLS Cup. Unfortunately for us, MLS is a home team league. MLS Cup has been contested on one of the participant’s home fields 7 times, and only twice has the away team won. Last year’s Portland side and the 2002 Galaxy are the only two teams to win away (curious that both are Western Conference teams…).

I had the following exchange with a devoted fan on Twitter yesterday:

MLS uses points from an unbalanced schedule to determine home field advantage for the championship. That policy, though league standard since 2011, should change. A quick MLS primer: each team plays 24 intraconference and 10 interconference games. Sure, every team in the league plays each other once, but over two-thirds of a team’s schedule is comprised of their conference foes. If the two conferences were of similar quality, the current policy would be fine. Since the leagues aren’t equal, and home field advantage is real, this policy plain stinks.

As a West Coast chauvinist, I innately know the Western Conference is better, but I also have numbers to back that up (h/t to Golfnut). Consider:

Sounders – 14-14-6 – 48 points

  • vs West – 8-11-5 – 29 points – 1.21 points per game

  • vs East – 6-3-1 – 19 points – 1.90 points per game

Toronto – 14-9-11 – 53 points

  • vs East – 11-4-9 – 42 points – 1.75 points per game

  • vs West – 3-5-2 – 11 points – 1.10 points per game

If the teams were to flip conferences:

  • Sounders earn 58 points playing 24 games vs the East and 10 games vs the West

  • Toronto earns 44 points playing 24 games vs the West and 10 games vs the East

Lastly, the Sounders infamously earned just 20 points from their first 20 games. 13 of those points were against Eastern conference teams (including one at BMO Field). Seattle, despite having to travel, should still win the championship.

West is Best: The Seattle Sounders and the Major League of MLS

The Seattle Sounders will face Toronto FC in their first crack at MLS Cup (granted, every season since their ascendance to the top flight has, arguably, been a crack at the Cup, but you can dig it).

If you’ve watched the Eastern Conference at all (and god knows why you’d waste your time with that brand of soccer) you *could* come away impressed by Toronto. Reviewing the regular season table reveals that the Reds posted an impressive 51 goals for and only 39 against. That +12 GD was good for the 3rd best in the league behind only NYRB and L.A. Galaxy.

Sure, the only two teams finishing with a better GD flamed out in the playoffs (because if there’s any consistency to MLS, it’s that the regular season means squat to the Cup), but Toronto stayed on a tear in the second season. They’ve scored 17 goal and only allowed 7, for a +11 GD in just 5 games. For a quick comparison, the Sounders are only 8-3 (GF/GA) in the postseason. Toronto is that team that seems to buzzsaw through everyone.

Just like New England in 2014. Remember that team? Jermaine Jones signed after the World Cup and had the Revs roaring. They whipped through the second half of the season, finishing second in their conference, before destroying the Eastern field while scoring 11 goals in 4 matches. These juggernaut Revs were then shut down in MLS Cup, losing 2-1 to the Galaxy.

You can contextualize and analyze this in many ways, but the long story short is: The Eastern Conference stinks. Or, if you want nuance, the East is worse than the West.

The last team from the East in win MLS Cup was SKC in 2013, and they were a once-and-future Western Conference team. Other than that asterisk, you have to go back to the Sigi-led Columbus Crew of 2008 and the 2004 DC United side for the previous Eastern reps to win the Cup. In fact, starting from 2000, the ‘08 Crew, and ‘04 United teams are the only purely Eastern sides to win the Cup in the last 18 years. Only 2 in the last 18 years!*

The true major league of North American soccer plays West of the Mississippi. The Sounders lack the gaudy stats and will be the visiting team in MLS Cup. But they’ve been through the Western Conference crucible, just like 16 of the past MLS Cup Champs.

*in 2000 the KC Wizards, representing the Western Conference, won the Cup. In ‘06 and ‘07, the Dynamo (then representing the West, though they went to the East before returning West) won the Cup. And again, yes the Sporks were in the East when they won in 2013… but they were a once and future Western team. So I am sticking to the 2 teams in 18 years stat.
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