The neutral's guide to 2019 MLS Cup

Your team not playing in MLS Cup? That's okay! That's the case for the overwhelming majority of the league. 

While Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC supporters will be hoping to see their side lift a trophy and plan a parade on Sunday, while their rivals (@PortlandTimbers, @MontrealImpact) will be rooting against them, there's still something for everyone in MLS Cup. 

Fans of the other clubs in MLS (and the next five expansion sides, don't worry, I see you Nashville, Miami, Austin, St. Louis and Sacramento), here's your viewing guide for MLS Cup 2019:

All eyes on the stars

Nico Lodeiro and Brian Schmetzer | USA Today Sports Images

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Sure, it's not exactly a complex thought but it always starts here.

Who doesn't want to watch Nico Lodeiro in this form and Jordan Morris seemingly making another leap and Playoff Raul Ruidiaz and Alejandro Pozuelo putting their teams on their backs and Chris Mavinga offering a friendly reminder that, yes, he's a top-tier center back in this league and Michael Bradley buzzing around the midfield doing a lot of shouting and spraying passes at all angles? 

This is all without the possibility of Jozy Altidore returning. And it didn't even include the eternally underrated Stefan Frei, hero of 2016 MLS Cup!

... the trilogy is pretty cool

Given this is the third Seattle vs. Toronto MLS Cup in four years, more than a few of the storylines have been well told. But, c'mon, admit it: The trilogy is pretty cool.

And the fact that they split 2016 and 2017 MLS Cups, both in Toronto, to now arrive for the tiebreaker in Seattle, is also pretty cool.

Unlike the Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers hegemony on the NBA Finals until LeBron James departed for Los Angeles, which was oft-forecasted at the beginning of each season, we had no clue this would be the MLS Cup matchup. We definitely didn't predict it back in February and few brave (proud?) souls predicted it at the beginning of the playoffs.

Even in the Conference Finals, when it was just one of FOUR possible outcomes, not many more saw it coming. And this was the #Narrative final, like how many talked themselves into predicting a third New York Giants vs. New England Patriots Super Bowl after 2012, which never came. 

Tactical battle

Greg Vanney | USA Today Sports Images

For the nerds: Greg Vanney has had to get creative in how to cope without Altidore and Omar Gonzalez these playoffs. He's made a number of key in-game alterations, too.

Without Altidore, it's been Pozuelo through the center. Without Gonzalez, it's a like-for-like switch with Laurent Ciman. Against NYCFC they dropped deep. Against Atlanta they pushed a bit higher, space in behind be damned. Nick DeLeon and Richie Laryea have been stone-cold killers off the bench no matter the game state or tactics. 

Brian Schmetzer has worked some magic, too.

His starting XI is a little more straightforward but offers different variations of audibles. Joevin Jones starts on the wing rather than the more attacking Victor Rodriguez, who came off the bench in the first two matches looking to make an impact but never entered against LAFC as they were protecting a lead. Brad Smith bombs forward with reckless abandon, then Jones or Nouhou is added to the left side if more stability is required. 

Will the Sounders compress the middle of the field in hopes of muzzling Pozuelo the same way they successfully did against Carlos Vela and LAFC? Will Toronto drop off or stay in a midblock? What happens at halftime or around the 60th minute with substitutions? 

Sweet, sweet chaos

For the nerds and the rest alike: These playoffs have had plenty of chaos.

There have been two (!) 4-3 overtime thrillers. One game saw four goals plunged in during extra time. In both Conference Finals (heavy) favorites fumbled a 1-0 lead at home and lost, setting up the matchup we are awaiting Sunday. 

Nouhou full-volleyed a beer can. Magic Johnson was LAFC's falconer one game. You know, the NBA legend just casually holding a bird of prey. FC Dallas almost ended Seattle's MLS Cup run before it started. TFC have done what they're doing without Altidore (that simply cannot be repeated enough). 

The point is: You can't prepare for the chaos, but you can welcome it. And, be sure, it's always lurking around the corner waiting to manifest itself.

Atmosphere and presentation

Already a sellout, it's going to be perhaps louder than ever at CenturyLink Field. Jon Champion and Taylor Twellman on the call are going to imbue the moment with requisite energy. The postgame interviews have been fiery in the last two rounds, too. 

It's going to be a party in Seattle on Sunday. Enjoy it. 

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LIVE YOUR COLORS: MLS Cup Champions Gear - Congratulations, Seattle Sounders fans! Celebrate with official MLS Cup champions gear on mlsstore.com


LIVE YOUR COLORS: Download the free MLS app - The official MLS app gets a major update for 2019, making it easier than ever to keep up with your favorite club, check standings, watch videos and much more.