Toronto FC vs. Seattle Sounders: Who has the edge in MLS Cup 2016?

Ahead of the 2016 MLS Cup final between Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders, MLSsoccer.com breaks down the two championship finalists position-by-position. The two teams will face off on December 10 (8 pm ET; FOX and UniMás in USA; TSN and RDS in Canada).

Toronto FC   Seattle Sounders
GOALKEEPERS
Clint Irwin made the move to Toronto prior to the season, helping to shore up a position that had been in flux for a couple of seasons. The 27-year-old started off the season well, helping Toronto concede just 16 goals in their first 14 games, but went down with a quad injury on June 25 that saw him miss three months. Since then, he has looked somewhat shaky, including in the Eastern Conference Championship. Advantage to:

Stefan Frei isn’t one of the flashiest ‘keepers in MLS, but he’s certainly one of the steadiest. The former Toronto FC draft pick has started 98 of 102 games for the Sounders since joining the club prior to the 2014 season. Sounders fans have had little to worry about with Frei in between the pipes.

DEFENDERS
Toronto have proven to be one of the strongest defenses in MLS, conceding by far the fewest goals of any Eastern Conference team. The backline is led by veteran center back Drew Moor, who had a strong case for Defender of the Year. Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow have recently moved farther up the field, but they have been two of the best fullbacks in MLS over the past five years. Nick Hagglund and Eriq Zavaleta can be had in 1v1 situations, but are otherwise solid tactically. Advantage to:
Roman Torres and Chad Marshall are the most physically imposing center-back tandem in MLS, shutting down opposing attacks whenever they’ve played together. In 11 games they have started together, the Sounders have lost just once. Joevin Jones is really more of a winger in a left back role, as he is very dangerous going forward but is prone to lapses defensively. Tyrone Mears has been an above-average right back in MLS since his arrival.
MIDFIELDERS
Toronto’s midfield three of Michael BradleyArmando Cooper and Will Johnson, most recently, have shown the ability to control the middle in TFC’s 3-5-2 formation. They have helped solidify Toronto’s defense while providing just enough going forward. Advantage to:
Nicolas Lodeiro was the MVP of the league over the last three months of the season and his acquisition is the primary reason the Sounders even made the playoffs. Osvaldo Alonso should be a Best XI selection at defensive midfield and Cristian Roldan emerged as a top young two-way midfielder next to him. Jordan Morris is one of the emerging stars in MLS, playing on the left wing at the moment. Any one of Erik Friberg, Alvaro Fernandez or Andreas Ivanschitz could end up as the fifth player in the midfield, with each having very different qualities.
FORWARDS
Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco make up the top forward pairing in MLS. Altidore has been red-hot for TFC over the past three months, scoring 14 goals in his last 17 games, while Giovinco should have been collecting his second straight Landon Donovan MLS MVP award on Dec. 6. Advantage to:
Nelson Valdez has assumed the role of starting striker for the Sounders. That is a phrase that most Sounders fans would’ve dreaded at most points of the season. The Paraguayan international has scored just one goal in 1,313 minutes over his MLS regular season career, but he has come alive during these playoffs, scoring two goals in just 303 minutes, including the game-winner in the Knockout Round. He will look to continue that run of good form against one of the strongest defenses in MLS history.
MANAGER
Greg Vanney experimented much of the season with his formations, while having the basic principles of a defensive shape, selective pressing and relying on Giovinco. Those experiments have benefitted his team, as they have found a formation that works for them in the 3-5-2, while having the ability to shift to others based on game states. Advantage to:

Brian Schmetzer became the interim coach with the Sounders’ season in peril. Over the last three months, and with Lodeiro leading the way, the Sounders averaged almost two points per game and secured their spot in the playoffs. Schmetzer deserves a lot of credit for the turnaround, and the run earned him the permanent job. He could have some tough decisions to make in this series due to injuries, but he has shown the ability to make all the right moves over the last three months.

BENCH
Tosaint Ricketts has scored two goals off the bench already in the playoffs, while players like Benoit Cheyrou provides a veteran presence in the midfield that could help to lock up some wins and score series-winning goals. Jonathan Osorio is an attacking midfielder who could come off the bench again. Advantage to:
Brad Evans is one of the most versatile players in MLS history, when healthy, and could be a key player off the bench for the Sounders. He could fill in at any spot in the midfield or defense and do it effectively. Herculez Gomez has struggled in his time with the Sounders but always has the potential to score a big goal. Oniel Fisher and Aaron Kovar provide depth at the fullback and winger positions. Two of Ivanschitz, Friberg or Fernandez could also make an impact, depending on who starts.
OVERALL
The Toronto FC brass built their team around their three Designated Players. Finally, that vision seems to be coming into focus. With Giovinco and Altidore providing the offense, Bradley controlling the midfield and a strong, organized defense, Vanney has his team hitting on all cylinders at exactly the right moment. Advantage to:
There’s little doubt that the Sounders have been the best team in MLS over the past three months. Morris is in top form, while the defense is conceding very little recently. One weakness could be striker, where Valdez is not exactly the most reliable player in MLS. The good news is that Nicolas Lodeiro is on their team, which might just be enough to beat Toronto on the road.

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