The Seattle Sounders want to silence the chatter about their quiet attacking outing in MLS Cup 2016 in Saturday’s rematch (4 pm ET; ESPN and UniMás in USA; TSN and TVAS in Canada) at Toronto FC, but don’t expect them to sacrifice their defensive principles to do so.
Seattle recorded zero shots on goal in 120 minutes of play in last year’s MLS Cup, never seriously threatening Toronto before beating the hosts in a shootout at BMO Field. The lackluster attacking showing drew critics after the match, and some of them have resurfaced ahead of this weekend’s final at TFC.
Head coach Brian Schmetzer said on Tuesday that he’d like to quiet those detractors with a solid attacking performance on Saturday, but goalkeeper Stefan Frei made it clear that the Sounders aren’t trying to get into too open of a match with high-flying Toronto.
“I think if we’ll have it our way, we’re not going to have it be wide open,” Frei told reporters on a conference call. “I think that would be counterproductive to the way we play and what I think is best for us. When we find ourselves playing good games is when we’re defensively sound, organized, not all over the shop, very disciplined.”
Seattle have certainly been disciplined down the stretch, keeping six consecutive clean sheets in a run that includes all four of their playoff matches. The 542-minute shutout streak is their longest of the season, eclipsing a 421-minute shutout run in July and August.
Of course, Toronto will be a tougher test than Seattle’s first two playoff opponents, Vancouver and Houston. The Whitecaps sat back in the Western Conference Semifinals, not even registering a shot on goal until Leg 2 at CenturyLink Field. The Dynamo were more willing to push forward, but went down to 10 men in both legs of the Western Conference Championship.
TFC haven’t lit up the scoreboard this postseason, but led MLS with 74 goals in the regular season. Attackers Sebastian Giovinco, Victor Vazquez and Jozy Altidore, even if he’s hobbled on Saturday by his ankle injury, will be a handful for Seattle’s defense. But Frei is confident the Sounders will hold firm.
“We’ve tried to make a point of being in control defensively, making things more predictable, organizing rather than shouting when things have not gone our way, being a bit more proactive when it comes to those things,” he said. “Organization and just awareness, tactical awareness as a squad and the way our coaches have prepared us has helped us in that aspect. It’s given us not just a bit of a streak now defensively, but obviously we had quite an extensive streak in the middle part of our season where we had a shutout for quite a while, so those things all bode well.”
Seattle also enter Saturday’s final with a better, deeper attacking group than they had at MLS Cup 2016. First-year Sounders Will Bruin, Victor Rodriguez and Harry Shipp are in-form, Joevin Jones is higher up the field at left wing and star forward Clint Dempsey is back and on a tear after missing last year’s cup run due to an irregular heartbeat.
Jordan Morris, who missed two months due to injury before appearing off the bench in Leg 2 against Houston, is “100 percent” and should play a role on Saturday as well, according to Schmetzer.
That should help the Sounders put together a better offensive outing on Saturday, even if it will be a measured one.
“We definitely don’t want to go into a back and forth where the game is wide open," Frei said. "They have some players, especially in their attacking part of the field where there are very, very dangerous, they’re lethal and we’re not going to want to give them too much space.
“… Does that mean we’re going to try and go for a 0-0? No, we’re not at all. We’re going to try to be organized but definitely carve out some chances, hopefully more than last year. And I’m confident the guys up top, when we do get our chances, will convert.”