From the moment Seattle Sounders defender Roman Torres made his penalty kick to defeat Toronto FC in MLS Cup 2016, the Reds have put considerable pressure on themselves to win their first league title this year.
They’ve dealt with that weight all season, using it as fuel for their Supporters’ Shield and Canadian Championship triumphs and during their chase for several regular season records. And even though they’ve said all year that they won’t consider 2017 a success without an MLS Cup, they insist they don’t feel any extra pressure heading into Saturday’s rematch against Seattle.
“I haven’t noticed from the group any sensation of more pressure or less pressure,” TFC head coach Greg Vanney said on a conference call with media on Tuesday.
Vanney and Toronto have already had an incredible 2017, setting the all-time MLS record for points in a single-season en route to running away with the Shield, the first-ever for a Canadian club. They feel like they know how to handle pressure, and are focused on their process in the buildup to the final.
“We talk and operate in a process-oriented way, which is the outcome is the result of what you produce on the field, and what you produce on the field is an outcome of what you train and what you recognize as you’re reading the game and playing the game,” Vanney said. “So for us, there’s no added pressure.”
If anything, Vanney says, the pressure in 2017 has come from a season of playing as favorites on pace to set league records.
“We played from the front the entire season,” he said. “We’ve had the pressure of trying to win the Supporters’ Shield, the pressure of trying to set history. Everyone has talked to us about pressure the whole way, this is no different. We stay focused on the process, the outcome will follow.”
Striker Jozy Altidore agreed that Toronto don’t have any added pressure ahead of Cup, shifting the focus to taking the title from Seattle when asked if he feels any extra weight heading into Saturday.
“We’re looking to take the title from them,” said Altidore. “They won. Regardless of how people’s opinions of how they won, they won. We have to make sure that come Saturday night, we do everything we can to take the trophy from them.”
For Altidore, a more pressing burden may be his recovery from an ankle injury he suffered in Leg 2 of the Eastern Conference Championship. On Tuesday, he expressed confidence that he'll play Saturday.
Vanney said Toronto will continue the businesslike approach they’ve had throughout the playoffs. For the most part this time around, TFC haven’t had to deal with the wild emotional swings of the 2016 postseason, dispatching New York Red Bulls via away goals in the Eastern Conference Semifinal series before advancing 1-0 on aggregate against Columbus Crew SC in the Conference Championship series.
“I think last year there was more emotional shifts and more back and forth where this year was pretty much just all business, do what the game [dictates], get the result,” he said. “I think this year has been a little more straightforward than last year was. I don’t know what that changes as we get into the final… but we’ll take the lessons that we picked up from last year and over the course of the season, and try to use them in the best way possible to give ourselves an advantage going into this match.”