When your team is eliminated from the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, the rest of the march to MLS Cup is always a little awkward. Who do I root for? Why? What do I align with? What do I do with my hands?
With either the Seattle Sounders or Toronto FC, who set to face each other in the final for the third time in four years, it's already clear who fans of the Portland Timbers and Montreal Impact will be rooting for and why. We get it.
But for the rest of the neutrals, if those internal questions haven't been enough to help you choose a side, here are a few reasons why you could root for either team in MLS Cup on Sunday:
Three reasons you should root for Toronto FC
They were one of the most popular upset picks in Round One, against a D.C. United team that hadn't conceded a goal in a month and a half. Even after they exploded for five goals, four of which in extra time, they were heavy underdogs against NYCFC at Citi Field. They were even heavier underdogs against Atlanta United. But here they are. And guess what? They're underdogs once more.
2. ANOTHER TROPHY FOR BRADLEY & CO.: Michael Bradley has a crowded trophy cabinet in Toronto, with an MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield and four Canadian Championships, and he's eying one more. There are a bunch of images of Bradley, with the captain's armband around his bicep, lifting trophies under a confetti shower. There's always room for one more.
Given his future has been in question most of the season as TFC transition from their old nucleus to a new one, Bradley has been a constant at the heart of Toronto's midfield.
Bobby Warshaw wrote about Bradley best in his Tale of the Tape: "But how many times in sports have we seen star players rejuvenate their aging bodies for that last “I’m still the man” game? (Bradley's) performances in the previous two MLS Cups were among the best you’ll ever see from a central midfielder in MLS. They were beautiful to watch. He can’t put those games together on a regular basis anymore, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him boss MLS Cup one last time."
3. POZUELO'S MAGIC: It's easy to get attached to one players and find yourself rooting for their team almost subconsciously. Alejandro Pozuelo is TFC's superstar, a Best XI admission in his first year in MLS. His son revealed to him that he made Best XI, which was one of the most adorable things you'll watch this year.
In the playoffs, playing at center forward rather than his preferred No. 10 where he can get on the ball more and pull strings, he has still been effective. He has two goals and two assists in three games. He has that ludicrous game-winning panenka penalty against NYCFC in stoppage time. It was cold-blooded. It was a wonderful microcosm of why he's so great and so much fun to root for.
Three reasons you should root for Seattle Sounders
1. LODEIRO'S MAGIC: You remember everything written, like, two paragraphs above? It obviously applies to Nico Lodeiro, too.
He holds a bunch of roles for Seattle: Creator-in-chief, indefatigable runner off the ball both in possession and in defense, club captain ("the shortest captain I've ever had," as Gustav Svensson lovingly referred to him on Wednesday) as well as secondary (tertiary?) goal scorer. He does a lot. I bet he could even play fullback if need be. I bet he could put in a decent shift as a No. 6 if need be, too. That's how good he is. Lodeiro is simply a fun player. He dribbles, he fires inch-perfect through balls, he almost always makes the right pass, he never stops running and he is a scorer of great goals. What's not to love?
2. SCHMETZER'S DYNASTY: Since taking over halfway through the 2016 season, Brian Schmetzer has guided his hometown Sounders to three MLS Cups and four Western Conference finals in four seasons. He oversaw the transition of Clint Dempsey, Ozzie Alonso and Chad Marshall out of the team. He's also helped the growth of Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan.
It's not just a great story for someone born and raised in the city, spending decades of his professional playing then coaching career in his hometown, but he could be forming a dynasty. In a league that is built on parity, teams aren't supposed to have the sustained excellence. But year after year, that's what the Sounders do. Schmetzer has taken them to a new level in his four seasons on the touchline.
3. LIFTING MLS CUP AT HOME: In front of a raucous sell-out home crowd of 70,000 fans, how loud will it get if Seattle take the lead? How loud will it get if Seattle are hanging on towards the final whistle? How much of a party would it be deep into stoppage time awaiting the referee to confirm a Sounders' victory? The atmosphere at CenturyLink Field is going to be wild all game long. Sometimes that home support lures neutrals from their couch. It's contagious.