Toronto FC played the best soccer of any team in MLS this year, dominating the regular season like no team's done in two decades, gutting out the Canadian Championship, and then surviving a tough Eastern Conference bracket in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs.
The Seattle Sounders have played the best soccer of any team in the playoffs this year, by far. They mostly glided through the regular season, slept through an unusually early US Open Cup exit, and then turned it on when it mattered most. They're the champs and they're playing like it.
So it's fitting that these two teams should meet in next week's 2017 MLS Cup, 12 short months after their grit-and-grind performance in the league's showpiece event. A win for the visitors etches Seattle's name into the record books as one of the few teams to repeat, while a win for the hosts would cap off the best season the league's ever seen and make TFC the undisputed answer to "Who's the best team in MLS history?"
There exists lots to play for in the 22nd MLS Cup. But first let's take a look at how they got here:
Toronto FC 1(1), Columbus Crew SC 0(0)
Not, by any means, a time-capsule performance for the Reds, who are probably playing their worst soccer of the season. They were let off by a poor Justin Meram touch in the first half when he looked clean through on goal, and their entire mien over the past two months has been one of hesitation and indecisiveness. Right now the Reds are letting teams keep them bottled up – there's rarely any direct, off-the-ball penetration, and that means backlines can keep Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Victor Vazquez in their sites.
Sometimes even that isn't enough:
Again: this is a team playing their worst soccer of the season, but they're still able to conjure that sort of magic against a pretty locked-in defense.
Seattle Sounders 3(5), Houston Dynamo 0(0)
The Sounders just tore through an over-matched and under-manned Dynamo squad, and did it with a little bit of everything: Set piece? Check. Open play cross? Check. Clever combo around the box? Check. Through-ball? Check. They're clicking on all cylinders, and this is one of the nicest goals of the postseason:
Eerily similar to that TFC goal, right?
The first difference is Seattle have been doing this sort of thing on the regular for the last two months as they've ramped up into playoff form. And the second difference is that their defense has been impenetrable – they've yet to concede in the playoffs, and have pitched 12 shutouts in their last 18 games across all competitions.
There will be lots more to say in the next nine days. For now, let's just appreciate the fact that the two best teams in the league are getting to renew their vows in the biggest game of the year.