TORONTO – When MLS Cup is on the line, there are guaranteed to be showdowns all over the pitch.
But perhaps the most consequential on the final night of the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs will take place on the flanks, where four of the best fullbacks MLS has to offer will contest the same ground, seeking to give their side the much-needed width to impact the result.
“It's one of the interesting lines of this match,” said Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney on Tuesday. “There will certainly be some challenges on the outside between both teams having to deal with the wide guys.”
Presumably lining up for the Seattle Sounders will be Tyrone Mears and Joevin Jones, a duo that Vanney described as, “capable in attack and good defenders; can cover a lot of ground. When [Seattle has] their good stretches of possession, the fullbacks play a big part. They're both good crossers of the ball, both will be aggressive.”
Morrow scored five goals, eclipsing his previous season high of two from last year, and equalled his 2012 best of four assists. And it was his clipped ball that was met by Nick Hagglund when TFC needed a goal against Montreal in the Eastern Conference Championship.
“Justin is a quiet guy, who gets things done,” said Vanney. “All season, Justin did things that were important for our team to be successful.”
While Beitashour's offensive numbers paled in comparison – he registered a single assist through the regular season – it was his floated ball that was met by Benoit Cheyrou for the series clincher against Montreal.
“Beita's a tireless worker, reads the game well,” recounted Vanney on Wednesday. “He's got a real knack for reading defensive situations, recognizing where is a fire is and making sure he can put it out. He's a gamer, will fight and compete through thick and thin and will lay everything he has on the line to get a result.”
It's a relationship that transcends play; the two room together when TFC hits the road.
“We're good friends, we talk a lot, on and off the pitch,” said Beitashour on Tuesday. “It goes back to the San Jose days, when we were bombing forward, trying to get crosses into the box.”
“He's a good roommate, nothing bad to say,” added Beitashour. “Clean, fixes up after himself, and [we] have some good conversations.”
The topic of those conversations? “Different every week,” revealed Beitashour. “Depends who we're playing, what's going on, if we're confident about something, worried about something. We talk things through. Justin is one of my good friends. We talk about everything; it's nice to have.”
Added Morrow on Wednesday: “Beita and I have done a good job, understanding our roles and responsibilities, bouncing ideas off each other; being prepared for these games.”
The friendship was forged in those shared San Jose days, where the Earthquakes won the Supporters' Shield in 2012.
Beitashour compared then and now: “It's a little different here. Not necessarily in the air, it's more on the ground, but a very similar style: trying to attack as much as possible [while] having a good balance. We can't both go recklessly because then a lot gaps that are going to be exposed.”
“Both teams have been special for their own reasons,” said Beitashour. “That San Jose team was a Supporters' Shield-winning team. We didn't win MLS Cup, so we didn't get the final prize. Throughout the year, we knew we were going to win, to score multiple goals. It was everyone attack, go out and score two, three, four goals. It was a fun year.
“This year, it's similar as far as attacking, maybe not as many goals,” he continued. “But the big difference is defensively. We're much better here than in San Jose. We take pride in not giving up goals, getting clean sheets, and keeping the goals-against average as low as possible.”
Said Morrow: “We talk about [the San Jose experience] time and time again. It's so different, there and here. We're really happy to be where we are, exactly where we want to be in the MLS Cup: a chance to win it.”