ATLANTA — Some matchups in sports are simply classics, sprouted from repeated championship tilts.
The National Basketball Association has Celtics vs. Lakers, who’ve met in the NBA Finals a record 12 times. There’s Dodgers vs. Yankees in Major League Baseball, who’ve met in the World Series on 11 occasions.
In MLS, one of those classic matchups in development appears to be Toronto FC vs. Seattle Sounders, who will meet in the 2019 MLS Cup final for the third time in four seasons.
“Wild, wild,” said Toronto captain Michael Bradley in a joyous visitors locker room at Mercedes-Benz Stadium following Toronto’s 2-1 win over Atlanta United Wednesday. “Obviously I was, with all due respect to Seattle, I was rooting for the other team [Tuesday] night pretty hard [LAFC, coached by his father Bob]. The fact that it plays out in Toronto-Seattle for the third time in four years should make for an interesting night.”
TFC enter MLS Cup against the Sounders in some of their best form of the last two seasons. Toronto closed the final 10 games of the regular season unbeaten — the longest such streak in the league — and have parlayed that form into three more postseason wins, the last two of which came against the Eastern Conference’s top two seeds.
“[We knew] if we could get through the summer months, get through the Gold Cup and then get our full group back together, that we'd have a real chance to put it all together in the second half of the season,” said Bradley. “Since the beginning of July when we got everybody back from the Gold Cup, we've been in a good way, and we continue to work, continue to improve, and we've got to keep that going for the next 10 days.”
If their gutsy efforts against some of the MLS elite this postseason weren’t enough reason for optimism, Toronto will be bolstered even further by key players such as Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez returning from their respective injuries. Neither player made an appearance in Wednesday’s win, with Gonzalez only fit for the bench and Altidore out of the squad completely.
“It's way too early to tell, but I hope and trust that Omar will be a lot farther along and have a number of training sessions under his belt,” head coach Greg Vanney said, projecting where his injured players will be come next Sunday. “I'm very optimistic now, gaining 10 days, that Jozy will be in the fold. My hope is that we'll have options from our entire roster and we'll get everybody back and decide what's the best way to attack the game.”