How Vanney's surprise tactical change propelled Toronto FC past Seattle

MLS Cup overlay: Greg Vanney - Toronto FC - close-up stocking cap

TORONTO — When Toronto FC's lineup was released ahead of the 2017 MLS Cup final, there was a moment of shock for anybody who had followed the club during the season.

Toronto had made the 3-5-2 formation their staple over the course of the past season-and-a-half and it had led them to the precipice of their first MLS Cup victory. But head coach Greg Vanney opted to trot out a 4-4-2 diamond formation, dropping center back Eriq Zavaleta from the starting XI in favor of another center midfielder as both Jonathan Osorio and Marky Delgado started. It proved to be the right move, with TFC dominating Seattle for much of the match on their way to a 2-0 victory.

"We shifted up to a diamond for defending and attacking reasons," Vanney explained after the match. "The defending reasons were, they [Seattle] liked to bring a lot of numbers to the middle of the field and they’re a great possession-oriented team with those numbers in the middle of the field.

"And by having the diamond, the four midfielders and the active forwards with us, we knew we could really crowd up that space and make it difficult for them which would isolate their outside backs on the wings. And we did a nice job of taking away really any of their combinations through the middle and made it difficult for them to really get into a possession-oriented game and really create things."

The move gave TFC captain Michael Bradley more bodies in the midfield, allowing him to put on another terrific performance in his defensive midfield role.

"I wasn't shocked," Bradley said in a postgame interview with ESPN's Taylor Twellman when asked about Vanney's choice to change the formation. "We felt like this was going to give us a big advantage and I think it worked it very well."

It was not the first time that Vanney opted to trot out the diamond, he turned to it during the second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship against Columbus Crew SC in addition to a couple of matches during the regular season, and it did not fail to frustrate a lifeless Sounders attack.

The numbers don't lie. Toronto outshot Seattle for the second straight MLS Cup meeting, taking 22 shots to the Sounders' seven and getting 11 shot on target to Seattle's two. In truth, Alex Bono had little to do with Nicolas Lodeiro and Clint Dempsey stifled. Lodeiro's 70 touches were tied for the third-fewest he's had in a match this season.

Toronto outpossessed their opponents 56.9-43.1 percent over the course of the entire match, with an even starker contrast coming in the first half when they controlled 63.5 percent of the possession.

"I think we surprised them because [we had] four players in the midfield and they didn't expect it," explained Toronto midfielder Victor Vazquez. "That's why I think we were much better, we also pressed harder to them, they couldn't play, they didn't do anything. [They didn't] create any chance and of course we deserve to win today."