Hot Takes - Plural
Rudy Calderon /

Hot Takes: Vazquez is 2017's best signing; Bruin's passing is secret weapon

If you're an MLS fan, you're probably very familiar with his work.

During the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, ExtraTime Radio co-host David Gass will be working overtime, sharing the astute, critical observations that have become a staple for listeners of the flagship podcast.

MLS Coach of the Year reacts better this time around

Last year in MLS Cup, the Seattle Sounders stifled Toronto FC’s attack and TFC head coach Greg Vanney did not make his first substitution until the 77th minute, when he brought on Will Johnson, who ultimately could not change the game for them. This year in the playoffs, Vanney showed a greater versatility. First, he changed up his formation in Leg 1 of the Eastern Conference Championship, getting through a tough game in Columbus. Then he made a big move at halftime in the second leg. Bringing on Marky Delgado and moving to a back four in defense pushed the game higher up the field for TFC, but also gave the backline more passing options.

What was especially impressive? Even with a flurry of chances at the end of the half, Vanney stuck with the needed substitution for Delgado, more of a box-to-box presence for TFC's midfield that was being overrun, and it paid off with another ticket for MLS Cup.

That's right, Vazquez is the biggest signing of 2017

Victor Vazquez may have had his penalty attempt saved against Columbus on Wednesday, but his influence on the team has been nothing short of outstanding. Toronto needed another player with creativity to break down opponents wanting to sit deep on cold MLS Cup Playoff nights. And Vazquez found redemption with the goal against Crew SC, helping in the buildup on Jozy Altidore's tally. Last year, it would have been Michael Bradley or Armando Cooper trying to be another playmaking option beside Sebastian Giovinco, and that's not their best role. Vazquez has been the biggest signing of the 2017 MLS season, as his attacking quality has helped elevate TFC to a historically good level.

Despite the result, Crew SC got it right

Justin Meram is going to be reliving that early chance on Wednesday all offseason in his head, as will Ola Kamara on his two looks. Crew SC had three or four chances to move on to MLS Cup. Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter’s tactical change slowed TFC, which allowed Columbus to settle in and keep the crowd out of it. For the second time in three years Berhalter eschewed his soccer philosophy in a big game to give his team the best chance to win, and despite the loss it was the right call.

Higuain gets in the way, so to speak

'Pipa' Higuain is one of the greatest players in MLS history and his form the last two months led Crew SC to the Conference Championship. But in the first half of the second leg, Harrison Afful was playing high up the field, pressuring Toronto defender Chris Mavinga out of the back. Because of this, he was making great early runs every time TFC turned the ball over. But Higuain consistently cut infield from the right onto his left foot, taking the play away from Afful and getting bogged down in the teeth of the TFC defense. The Ghanaian fullback, who scored the series winner against NYCFC, was never able to make the impact he should have.

Which team is the deepest in playoffs? Might be the Sounders

This Sounders squad has done a great job of building depth over the last two years. To be able to lose a Roman Torres on Thursday and Jordan Morris for most of the postseason and still start two full internationals in Gustav Svensson and Joevin Jones in their places is a major reason why this Sounders team is headed to their second straight MLS Cup. Brian Schmetzer has a few positional/tactical moves he can make in MLS Cup without a drop in talent on the field.

The Dancing Bear Breaks Out

Will Bruin has been everything this Seattle team has needed over the last six weeks, pouring in goals to close out the regular season and putting up two goals against his former team this round. But his distribution has been the real difference. His layoff created the goal for Clint Dempsey to open up the scoring against Vancouver last round, and his flick for Victor Rodriguez on Thursday was one of the goals of the postseason. For someone not known for his tricks, Bruin is starting to steal Deuce’s style, with all the backheels and flick-ons, although I think we'll be waiting a while for the stepovers.

Dynamo's quality rebuild

Every team in MLS has their offseason shopping list but no club's work might be as simple as Houston's. Juan David Cabezas and Alberth Elis were two of the linchpins for this Dynamo team and both are on loan this season. The Dynamo front office has told me Cabezas was their team MVP, and at just 26 years old he could form a midfield with Tomas Martinez to contend in MLS for years to come. And of course my love for Elis has always been known. He needs to work on his efficiency in finishing but he is a superstar in this league and an example of the type of player every MLS team should build around. Hopefully both players will be around for years to come.

The rematch

TFC and the Sounders are the two best squads in MLS and this MLS Cup final will be a game to remember. Yes, last year Seattle won with zero shots on goal, but now add in Dempsey, Rodriguez, Bruin and Kelvin Leerdam attacking up the flank and this will be a totally different final. TFC on the other hand know the task they face better this year and with Vasquez in tow are more prepared to give us all a show.