TUKWILA, Wash. — Few people could have seen the Seattle Sounders vs. Toronto FC MLS Cup clash coming. But at least one prominent person did.
And it was long before the playoffs even started.
After the Sounders beat TFC 3-2 at CenturyLink Field in April, Sounders assistant Djimi Traore approached TFC defender Chris Mavinga to tell him of his vision. You'll be back here for MLS Cup, Traore asserted. Okay, maybe, Mavinga reasoned. Given TFC had just lost, he wasn't particularly thinking about MLS Cup seven months away.
No, trust me, Traore pleaded with Mavinga.
“For me, it’s a feeling," Traore told MLSsoccer.com as he helped prepare the Sounders for Sunday's MLS Cup Final (3 pm ET | ABC, Univision, TUDN, TVAS, TSN). "When you have that feeling inside of you … the third final was coming up. It’s always a special game against them.”
Mavinga, admittedly, wasn't entirely convinced.
“No, to be honest, I didn’t believe it," Mavinga said. Traore was unaware his prophecy fell to a non-believer, an eyebrow raised when the news was broken to him on Friday.
But here we are. Just as Traore predicted.
Djimi Traore after winning the 2005 Champions League | Action Images
The pair didn't know each other personally prior to MLS, but had similar backgrounds. Traore spent years playing for Liverpool, while Mavinga spent some time at the club's academy though never made his first-team debut. Both are French-born Africans, Mavinga representing DR Congo internationally and Traore playing for Mali on the international stage.
"I just met him when I came here, when we went to Seattle my first year here," Mavinga explained. "I know he’s a former Liverpool player, so I knew him as a player. I always respect that because he has a lot of experience. With [former TFC defender Benoit] Cheyrou, we went to a restaurant for dinner – it was very good, I was so happy because I knew this was a big player, he has so much experience. When you’re at the same table with Cheyrou and Djimi Traore it's fun because they give you so much advice, I just keep it for me.”
Traore, a Champions League winner with Liverpool, spent 2013-14 playing for Seattle, where he won a Supporters' Shield and US Open Cup. He knows a thing or two about big games. He played all 120 minutes in Liverpool's famous 2005 Champions League final triumph over AC Milan, coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the second half to win after penalties.
But he's not the only person with the club that has experience in big games.
“I don't have to tell [the players] anything," Traore quipped. "We have a lot of experienced players. It’s a third final for many of them, they’ve been there before. The main thing is to stay focused, enjoy every single minute of the preparation, the minutes before the game and then the game. Sometimes there’s only one opportunity.”
Sounders vs. Toronto isn't the only big game in Traore's life Sunday, too. A few hours before MLS Cup kicks off, Liverpool host Manchester City in one of the biggest Premier League games of the campaign, one that he obviously can't watch though he holds the club close to him still.
“Yes of course I’m still a big fan of Liverpool!" Traore said excitedly without hesitation. "I spent seven or eight years of my life there. It was fantastic. They keep in touch with me, invite me sometimes to play with Liverpool Legends. I played against AC Milan legends, it was fantastic. Those kind of things stay with me."