TORONTO – Preparation is the key to success.
That is the message that Toronto FC will be putting into practice this week as they look forward to the conclusion of the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs with this Saturday's MLS Cup final against the Seattle Sounders at BMO Field (8 pm ET, FOX, UniMás | TSN1/3/4, RDS in Canada).
With the unforgettable thrill of the Eastern Conference Championship win over Montreal still reverberating, Greg Vanney and company are already focused on what lies ahead.
“It's a roster of good players. They've always had that,” said Vanney of Seattle on Friday. “They obviously have experience. We've seen Jordan Morris continue to grow over the year. They're a good team, they like to play. They like to have the ball, like to attack... it's going to make for an exciting night."
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Vanney also noted the impact of the Sounders' big midseason acquisition.
“One of the pieces they missed, regardless of coaching staff, was the guy who can unlock the defense, make the final pass,” continued Vanney. “They've got guys who can run off the ball, who are very direct; some pieces that could hurt you, for sure. They were just lacking that link... that's what they picked up in [Nicolas] Lodeiro. He's goal dangerous, but he's also a guy who can find the right guys at the right time with the right pass. It's added to their group.”
Vanney expanded on the Uruguayan's threat on Monday afternoon during a conference call: “[Lodeiro] is one of the best in our league at pulling strings, moving the game around, and finding very good spots. With not a whole lot of space needed, he can can unlock runs of other guys and impact the game.”
And he even sees some similarities between Lodeiro and TFC's own attacking gem, Sebastian Giovinco.
“Both are very good players, [their skillsets are] not exactly the same, but there is some crossover. Nicolas is more of an attacking midfielder than he is a forward, and Seba is more a forward than he is an attacking midfielder, but there is some clear value that each of them bring to their respective teams,” said Vanney, a distinction echoed by Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer when considering the same comparison.
So just how will Toronto look to handle such a potent opponent?
“For us, it's having a good understanding of how we manage him, depending on what areas he comes from,” explained Vanney on Friday. “Seattle sometimes plays Lodeiro from an outside position, sometimes inside. He's not the only playmaker, but the key playmaker.”
The same goes for Morris and the rest of Seattle's threats.
“Morris, has played on the wing, has played center forward. We've got to have a good sense of those circumstances. He's a guy who runs hard, he's fast. We want to know how to deal with that. [Seattle] likes to get their outside backs going into attack.They will get numbers moving in forward directions, they have good runners, and guys who can deliver a ball. It's understanding their pieces and making sure we have a good sense of whatever variations they may throw, [and that] we have good solutions for those.”
Fresh off a series with Montreal, a team Toronto played seven times this season, Seattle, a side they met only once – back on July 2 and before Lodeiro's arrival, drawing 1-1 in Toronto – will be a challenge.
“It'll be different,” admitted TFC forward Jozy Altidore on Saturday. “We know the team, we've seen them play. We have to be ready for everything, ready to give everything.”
Since that midsummer meeting, the acquisition of Lodeiro and the replacement of Sigi Schmid with Schmetzer as head coach, the Sounders have rocketed up the table, all the way to the MLS Cup Final as Western Conference Champions.
Toronto defender Eriq Zavaleta, once a Seattle draft pick himself, summed it up neatly on Saturday: “They're a team that struggled early on, fired their coach, and then caught fire. They were in last place in July and here they are in MLS Cup.”
TFC's mission, according to Zavaleta: “To put out their fire, and to finish this off for us.”