TORONTO, Ontario — There’s no denying that the Sounders were outplayed on Saturday night against Toronto FC in their second consecutive MLS Cup final against the Canadian club. The 2-0 result was fair, and probably a bit generous considering how the Sounders played for most of the match. Other than simply accepting the dominance of Toronto FC, what can explain how out of their depth the Sounders looked in this match?
Brian Schmetzer was asked that question in the post-game press conference, and he started with a simple answer: “I wish I knew.” But despite not having much time to process the heartbreaking loss, he continued and said that one statistic stood out to him. “Throughout the course of the year I’ve always picked out one stat on the stat sheet that I always feel is important for success and that is duels won.”
Toronto FC won 58 duels, while Seattle only won 24. That’s a 70.7% advantage in duels won for Toronto, which is incredibly lopsided — and atypical for anyone who has watched the Sounders this season. “Normally, our team is very good in that department,” said Schmetzer. “We have been very good about that all year long.”
Just compare those numbers to the Sounders’ dominant performance against the Houston Dynamo in the second leg of the Western Conference finals. In that 3-0 win, Seattle won about 55% of the duels, which is about where they finished most matches this season — certainly most of the matches in which they won. But win or lose, the Sounders rarely get dominated in the duels department.
Such an outlier of stat is pretty indicative of how much of an anomaly this was for the Sounders’ season — and definitely how good Toronto FC were. The Sounders were simply unprepared for Toronto FC’s speed and strength in getting and keeping possession, and they had no way to claw back into the game because they couldn’t get the ball back. Not only were players like Nicolas Lodeiro and Cristian Roldan losing the ball in midfield; Clint Dempsey and Will Bruin weren’t winning aerial duels high up the pitch either.
Of course, this isn’t the whole story of Seattle’s loss. Toronto FC is an extremely good team, with extremely good players that owned this game for nearly every single minute. But as we dissect the result and try to pinpoint where Seattle went wrong, looking at which stats loom large is a good place to start. We can see that Toronto came into this match playing in a way that limited the Sounders from doing pretty much all the things they do best.