Toronto FC has already amassed an amazing season by any metric. They’ve collected the most points in MLS history (69), posting a jaw-dropping +37 goal differential along the way. They’ve secured a spot in CONCACAF Champions League by winning the Canadian Championship, and are now the first double-winner in their country’s professional history.
A win on Saturday would be a crowning achievement, to be sure. They’d become the league’s first-ever treble winner (asterisk or not) and surely have to be considered one of the best teams in league history, if not the hands down choice.
They have stars all over the field, guys with World Cup and Champions League experience. There’s a reasonable argument to be made that it’s the most talented MLS group ever assembled, and it’s certainly the most expensive.
No one should have to be convinced of how good they are or how important this game is to them.
So, why are Toronto FC players and coaches taking every opportunity to do just that?
Some of the highlights:
- “Guys were watching, hoping for a shot to play Seattle again.” - head coach Greg Vanney
- “Especially with last year, having lost it at home. It's still heavy on our minds that we want to win at home in front of our fans.” - defender Justin Morrow
- “It's a club that I want to beat more than any other, not because I played there, but because they took something away from us last year. We're not going to let anybody do that again.” - defender Eriq Zavaleta
To be clear, I don’t think anything here suggests disrespect, and all of it is totally reasonable. It would be hard to pretend as though last year’s game was meaningless in terms of the mentality that both teams have. I’m just a little surprised that TFC’s players and coaches seem to be admitting the degree to which the Sounders have basically taken up permanent residence in their heads.
Just contrast this to the way the Sounders are talking, focusing mostly on themselves. They know they’re an improved team over the one that lifted the trophy last year, and even the one that TFC beat 1-0 at CenturyLink Field earlier this season. They, too, are stacked with talented players who have played and succeeded in big games both at club and international levels.
Just look at how head coach Brian Schmetzer refused to get into any sort of back and forth with Vanney over the supposed lack of intense situations the Sounders have found themselves in during the playoffs.
“If he’s saying that to get his guys traction somehow, some way, that’s his business,” Schmetzer said. “Greg’s a good guy and a good coach. I’ve got nothing against the quote.”
It’s been alluded to in other places, but the Sounders have an almost undeniable mental edge going into the game. That’s one of the benefits of being the defending champion — you know you can do it. The Sounders don’t feel like they need to prove themselves to anyone because their accomplishments speak for themselves.
Of course, it might not matter. Maybe TFC is just simply better on the day and that will be enough. But think back to the 2014 season for a second. The Sounders put together a campaign not so unlike the one TFC had this year, having won the Supporters’ Shield and U.S. Open Cup. They were as talented as any team in recent MLS history. The Galaxy, meanwhile, were on the tail end of their dominance. The Sounders jumped out to a lead in the Western Conference finals at CenturyLink Field and it was all there for the taking.
But Juninho scored in the 54th minute and it was like all the air came out. It almost didn’t seem to matter that the Sounders had nearly 40 minutes to reclaim the lead. The Galaxy had the mental edge of having previously been to the top of the mountain, and the Sounders weren’t sure how to get there.
The Sounders have said all year they are far more worried about themselves than anyone else. There’s a peace of mind that comes with that. We’ll find out just how much that’s worth on Saturday.