There’s now less than a day until the much-anticipated 2016 MLS Cup final rematch between the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC at CenturyLink Field. Last weekend’s match against the New England Revolution saw the Sounders concede three goals at home, only to come back in the final 15 minutes to earn a point.
So what did the team work on this week, and how are they preparing for Toronto and its fierce attack?
Head coach Brian Schmetzer outlined a few key things his team is working on, not least of which is defensive discipline. Schmetzer said he was drilling his players on “team defense” for “a large part of [the week], I’d say more than half.” Considering that the success the Revolution had against Seattle often came on the counter, the team really focused on “defending in transition” this week in order to not get caught on the counter or against speedy attackers like Sebastian Giovinco.
Sounders injury update
Some good news on the injury front was finally shared on Friday. Virtually the entire team was in full training, with Aaron Kovar and Oniel Fisher the only two that were in “half training” according to Schmetzer.
While none are definite starts, defenders Chad Marshall, Brad Evans, and Roman Torres should all be good to go against Toronto. Some may be put on the bench or held out entirely as a precaution, but all three are at least healthy enough to participate fully at this point.
Forward Jordan Morris, who aggravated his ankle injury after a tackle against New England, also participated fully on Friday and should be available on Saturday.
Nobody has to be reminded that Toronto’s Giovinco is one of, if not the best player in Major League Soccer. While the Sounders have faced the Italian before, stopping him is no easy task for even the best defenders in the league. Schmetzer said that while there are “lots of ways” to attempt to stop Giovinco, it’s still extremely difficult. He’ll be asking his team to “try and not let him hurt [us] by denying him the ball when [we] can, double team when [we] can.”
Roldan, who spent much of the Cup final last year trying to stop Giovinco, had nothing but praise for his opponent. “Giovinco is a spectacular player, it’s very difficult to defend him.” He compared the team’s task this week with last week’s against New England’s Lee Nguyen, but to an even higher degree. “We didn’t do a great job of collecting second balls last week with Lee Nguyen, so that’s something we need to correct this week and manage the touches that Giovinco gets.” He noted the importance of always being aware of the speedy forward, so that you can limit his time on the ball and decrease the threat he poses.
The new guy: Victor Vazquez
The most notable new face for TFC is particularly dangerous: midfielder Victor Vazquez. The current league leader in assists (6, one more than Joevin Jones), Vazquez has helped his team thrive by locking down the left side of the pitch and allowing Giovinco to concentrate on the middle and right sides. Limiting Vazquez’s time on the ball, as with Giovinco, is another big piece of Schmetzer’s strategy. “He’s a good find, he’s technically very clean. Sees a lot of passes, he’s been very good for them. He’s on that left side, he collects a lot of balls there and is able to combine.”
Roldan thinks that Vazquez is “extremely good” and identified him as one of the key links between Toronto’s midfield and attack that must be disrupted. “It’s about being aware of Vazquez in those soft areas, filtering the ball to Giovinco and Altidore.”
Rematch, or just another game?
The marketing departments of both teams and the league have guaranteed that nobody will forget the significance of this first matchup between the two teams since the final. But for the Sounders, as I’m sure it also is for Toronto, it’s just another chance to get three points and climb up their respective conference tables. Roldan said that he’s excited for this particular game, “but at the same time, it’s business and we want to win for our fans, for ourselves, for the standings, and it should be a good game.”
An MLS scheduling quirk sees Toronto play three games in eight days, with the match in Seattle right in the middle. Even though it’s pretty obvious that the away team has unfinished business with the guys in rave green, rumors have swirled that Toronto won’t be bringing a full squad to CenturyLink, or at least benching a few starters. Schmetzer said his team is keeping that in mind, but he made sure to mention that Toronto isn’t the only team that faces fixture congestion in this league. “We’ve got a tough schedule too. Hope everybody puts that into perspective.”
As for preparing for possible changes by Toronto, Schmetzer said his team practices for a few extra options, but it’s a bit of a moot point for how he wants his team to view the game. For the Sounders, it’s not about making changes to suit the other team, because they want to dominate every match from start to finish. “We prepare our team and make other teams change to us and we can dictate how we want to play, then some of that stuff solves itself.”