TUKWILA, Wash. – Seattle have been MLS' hottest team after the midpoint of the season, charging back from the bottom of the table to their first berth in an MLS Cup Final. Still, goalkeeper Stefan Frei says the Sounders are the underdogs in the Dec. 10 title game at BMO Field -- and he's fine with Toronto FC having to shoulder the pressure of being the favorites and playing host to this matchup of first-time finalists.
“They have that [homefield advantage] now,” Frei said on Thursday. “They’re going to have to take care of that and make that count. So that puts a little bit of pressure on them, I think. We’ll take that underdog role, if you will, and play our game and make it as difficult as possible. I think we’re confident we can go up there and get a result.”
The Sounders had made no secret of their wish to host the final, though -- and would have done so, had the Montreal Impact prevailed in the Eastern Conference Championship.
“I’m rooting for Montreal,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer told reporters on Wednesday. “We’re happy that we’ve made it, they’re two good teams and both provide different challenges. But, yes, we’d love to host.”
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TFC had different plans.
On Wednesday night, the Reds -- trailing 4-2 on aggregate after 24 minutes -- bagged a thrilling 5-2 second-leg victory for a 7-5 aggregate triumph over the Impact, Instead of playing for a title in the friendly and temperate confines of CenturyLink, the Sounders now must embark on the 2,500-mile excursion to BMO Field to take on a TFC side that posted an 8-3-6 record on their home pitch during the regular season.
The trip to Toronto also means that the Sounders will likely have to contend with some unforgiving conditions.
Early forecast predictions for MLS Cup game day estimate a low temperature of 25 degrees that could feel as low as four degrees when factoring in wind chill. It’s an added variable that Sounders defender Zach Scott said his team is aware of -- but one he was quick to point out both teams will have to deal with.
“Fortunately both teams have to do it. It’s not going to be an advantage to either one of us,” Scott said. “It would have been fantastic to play in front of our fans in much better weather than that but I think we’re really excited for the opportunity. We know we’re facing a great team and regardless of whether the field is frozen, we’re going to be ready to play.”
Elements aside, TFC also presents the Sounders with a match-up against an opponent whose attack has been firing on all cylinders throughout the Audi 2016 MLS Cup playoffs. Paced by the ever-dangerous trio of midfielder Michael Bradley and forwards Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, TFC have bagged 18 goals over their five postseason matches.
Few teams have had success in slowing down that three-headed monster this season, but the Sounders also know that’s likely exactly what they’ll have to do if they plan on making their MLS Cup aspirations a reality.
“You saw last night’s game, the amount of opportunities they had. Regardless of the number of goals that they scored, they were creating chances left and right,” said Scott. “It was a pretty open game and hopefully it doesn’t turn into that when we go there. But we’re expecting them to send numbers forward, especially at home and with their crowd behind them.”