Happy MLS Cup Day Seattle Sounders fans!!
Your humble Seattle Sounders play world-beating Toronto FC today for MLS Cup. No big deal. I still can’t believe the Sounders are looking at a potential repeat. I repeat, your Seattle Sounders are on the precipice of becoming only the fourth team in MLS history to repeat as MLS Cup champions.
With only nine years in the league, consistent playoff wins, 4 US Open Cups, 1 Supporter Shield, and 1 MLS Cup, this simple appearance cements Seattle as an Alexi Lalas-approved SuperClub™.
However. How often do we discuss the 21st Century dominance of the Houston Dynamo? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Houston began play in 2006, converted from a failing San Jose franchise, and immediately won MLS Cup. Then they repeated. Then they made it to two more back-to-back MLS Cups and two more Western Conference Finals. From 2006 to 2013, 8 years, Houston had 4 MLS Cup appearances, 2 wins, and 2 more Western Conference Final appearances. That is, frankly, dominance. And yet… when the Dynamo reclaimed their perch and advanced to the Conference Finals, no one was scared or whispering about the rebirth of a bully. Their record had fast faded.
Seattle does not want that. Seattle wants, has always wanted, will always want, to be THE gold-standard of American soccer. They took their first step last year and can make a mighty leap today. Seattle must beat Toronto.
Sure, Toronto is off to a historically great season in 2017. Sure, Toronto was the last team to beat us at home. Sure, we didn’t muster a single shot on goal in last year’s final. And back in early May, in TFC’s 1-0 win in Sodo, the Reds won on an Altidore PK. Toronto was down some key players, specifically Giovinco, while we trotted out Schmetzer’s stolid 4-2-3-1, the same formation we’ll use today. We fielded many of the same players, Nico, Roldan, Deuce, Svensson, Bruin, Joevin, Roman, Frei, that we’ll trust our fortunes with today. So… wowzer, Seattle shouldn’t have even took the flight to Lake Ontario.
However. Kelvin Leerdam wasn’t wearing Green in May. He is the player who will turn the game in Seattle’s favor today. I ardently believe that fullbacks define modern soccer. Mears and Jones saw Seattle through last year, as will Leerdam and Jones/Nouhou today. Leerdam has pace, intellect, instinct and 1v1 chops. Last year, Toronto pinned our fullbacks back with their effective duo of Morrow and Beitashour, and that will simply not happen today because of Leerdam.
Frankly I give a lot of credit to the president of soccer for this. Garth Lagerwey arrived in Seattle to much fanfare, his name was all over the place. Lagerwey took much praise, and blame, for the #Sigiout situation and some missed signings. We debated whether the Ivanschitz and Valdez signings had his fingerprints on them. Lately, Mr. President has done a solid job of staying out of the spotlight, save for the missed Derlis signing, while rebuilding this team for a championship repeat.
Replace Mears as RB? Check. Leerdam.
Replace Friberg and get some depth at DM? Check. Svensson.
Replace Valdez at #9? Check. Bruin.
Replace Flacco and augment the attack? Check. Rodriguez.
Sign a likable Muppet-man to the team for quality depth? Check. Shipp.
Some of the best decisions are the ones you don’t make. Lagerwey kept his cool about Deuce’s career-threatening injury, and didn’t overpay a mercenary to fill a potentially non-existent hole. And even the hardline he took on the Derlis signing, not being cowed by Dynamo Kiev, was a huge signal to world football clubs that Seattle, over in little old MLS, will not be bullied.
But what I love best from Lagerwey is how Seattle has collected a slew of modern fullbacks in Leerdam, Jones and Nouhou. Sure Joevin is pulling a poor-man’s Yedlin and jumping across the pond, but that’s the cost of developing international-quality players at the modern game’s key position.
Lagerwey is the catalyst for Seattle pivoting from perennial playoff contender to once and future champions.
BOLD PREDICTION: Mrs. Raving Green is stressing this game, but I am oddly confident.
Maybe not so oddly. Toronto is in a funk and had to battle through the East’s 6 and 5-seed to make the Final. Seattle is feeling it right now. Seattle is on a tear and destroyed the West’s 3 and 4-seed.
Last year I wrote, The Seattle Sounders have the sparkle of fortune about them as they prepare to square off against Toronto FC in Saturday’s MLS Cup. 2017, however, TFC has been destiny’s darling, and that simply isn’t enough. All the pressure is on the Reds. Seattle is in better form. Seattle 2-1 in extra time. Deuce equalizes to send the game past 90, and favorite son, J-Mo ices the game. SOUNDERS! ‘Tis the Season of joy!