For the third time in four seasons, Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders will meet in the MLS Cup final. After a Seattle shootout win in 2016 and a 2-0 TFC victory the following year, here's everything you need to know about today's rubber match.
Will Altidore see any minutes?
Rarely has someone's thigh garnered so much attention.
Jozy Altidore is yet to see the field in the postseason. The American striker has been sidelined since suffering a quadriceps injury in the Reds' regular-season finale against Columbus, watching his club's unexpected run to the MLS Cup final from afar.
Altidore, 30, has been asked about the status of his injury on a seemingly daily basis. He said Monday he would need "a bit of a miracle" to return against the Sounders, but there seems to be growing optimism regarding his availability as kickoff nears.
"I got on the field yesterday, it felt good going through the motions and setups," Altidore told reporters Saturday. "It felt good. Today is another day to push it more and try to make myself available. This is it, the last day before the game. See how it reacts, put it under a little more stress."
Greg Vanney has used Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo in a false-nine role in Altidore's absence, showing off his tactical flexibility - something he's quietly done all season - with a 4-3-3 formation featuring Nicolas Benezet and Tsubasa Endoh out wide. If Altidore is healthy enough to see the pitch, can Vanney come up with another system to keep his side rolling?
Can TFC stop the Lodeiro-Morris-Ruidiaz triumvirate?
Raul Ruidiaz and Jordan Morris have taken turns playing starring roles in Seattle's bid for a second-ever championship. The versatile American forward scored a crafty hat-trick in the wild win over FC Dallas earlier in the postseason, while the Peruvian took over in the Western Conference final with a pair of clinical goals in an upset win against LAFC.
Toronto FC, meanwhile, looked in danger of being blown away by the pace and directness of Atlanta's attack in the early stages of the Eastern Conference final, with Laurent Ciman finding things particularly difficult before settling in. Whether Ciman starts again or veteran defender Omar Gonzalez returns from his hamstring injury, TFC's right-side center-back will be tasked with helping Auro mitigate the dynamic left side of Seattle's attack, which also features Australian full-back Brad Smith marauding forward.
With creative fulcrum Nicolas Lodeiro orchestrating from his attacking midfield position, Seattle have a variety of ways to beat an opponent; Lodeiro picking up the ball centrally and slicing the opposition backline open with a perfect pass to either Morris or Ruidiaz is a staple of the Sounders' game.
The battle between Lodeiro and TFC captain Michael Bradley will thus be a fascinating one. The star who does a better job dictating the tempo at CenturyLink Field will likely end up hoisting the MLS Cup.
Impact off the bench
Both Vanney and Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer have proven adept at utilizing their benches to great effect during the playoffs.
Schmetzer is expected to have Victor Rodriguez at his disposal, while Vanney has relied on Nick DeLeon and Richie Laryea to help spearhead victories throughout the postseason. DeLeon uncorked one of the best goals of the playoffs when he launched a rocket into the top corner to sink Atlanta in the East final, while the blossoming Laryea won the decisive penalty that sent New York City FC packing in the round prior.
How the two coaches manage their substitutes and how those changes impact their respective tactical approaches - if at all - will go a long way toward determining Sunday's winner.
Here's a look at how the two sides stacked up during the regular season.
|Ruidiaz (11)||Top scorer||Pozuelo (12)|