MLS Cup is nearly here, and there are a multitude of storylines to unpack as we edge closer to another meeting between the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC on Sunday (3 pm ET | ABC, Univision, TUDN, TVAS, TSN). Not sure where to start? Look no further – here's all the info to get you ready for MLS Cup 2019:
MLS Cup, Part Three
It's the "Three-match" between Seattle and Toronto, the teams' third meeting in the title game in the last four years. This time around, there's a new venue, as Seattle's CenturyLink Field hosting their first MLS Cup featuring the home team.
Surprised to see this particular matchup in MLS Cup yet again? You probably shouldn't be. These teams have split titles from their first two meetings, and they believe they deserve this rubber match. Given the recent track record between two of the most successful clubs in this decade of MLS, it's hard to argue.
It's a sellout
People are crazy for the Sounders in and around the Emerald City, and it's little surprise the game sold out very quickly. For those who didn't get a ticket in the initial sale, the resale market is red-hot, with tickets averaging $622 on the resale market on SeatGeek earlier this week. Precise attendance is unknown ahead of time, but it's projected to close to 70,000, which would make it the second on the list of highest-attended MLS Cups after last year's spectacle in Atlanta.
The Sounders have a 110-37-36 record at CenturyLink Field and will be counting on home-field advantage to see them to MLS Cup glory on home turf. With CenturyLink Field being one of the loudest sporting venues in North America, expect the Seattle faithful to bring the noise...literally.
The Sounders also have hometown roots, with head coach Brian Schmetzer born and raised in Seattle and star attacker Jordan Morris growing up in the area. Both men have already written their names in Seattle sports lore but will be looking to add to their legacies with another MLS Cup win.
In MLS history, one team getting to three MLS Cup finals in four years is unusual – only D.C. United (1996-99), LA Galaxy (1999-2002, 2009-12, 2011-14) and the New England Revolution (2005-07) have managed such runs in their histories. No two teams have done it simultaneously.
So will the winner of the 2019 MLS Cup be considered a dynasty? Time will likely have to tell on that front, but it's a discussion worth having (see above), especially with both of these teams winning plenty of other titles over the years to go with the MLS Cup victories.
Both teams have had the same head coaches through their MLS Cup runs in recent years. Schmetzer has not won any individual coaching awards with the MLS team, but he's won league titles with the Sounders at two different levels and is highly respected in the locker room and around Seattle. Does he worry about the lack of wider recognition? “I get enough respect at home," Schmetzer told reporters earlier this week. "My mom loves me, my wife loves me, my dog loves me.”
Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney, meanwhile, won MLS Coach of the Year in 2017 while leading his side to the first domestic treble in MLS history. But after being issued an ultimatum of sorts in the summer by TFC president Bill Manning, it seemed Vanney's seat was getting very hot.
Now, it's safe to say he has earned more time to shape TFC's future. Toronto are currently on a 13-game unbeaten streak in MLS play, and they haven't lost since Aug. 3. For a team that hadn't won anything except the Canadian Championship before his arrival, Vanney's fingerprints are all over TFC's turnaround as a club.
The Sounders enter the big game more or less fully healthy, minus Will Bruin on a torn ACL. But Toronto have two big question marks in their spine, with forward Jozy Altidore and defender Omar Gonzalez yet to feature in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs due to injury.
While Gonzalez made the bench for the Eastern Conference Final, Altidore has both been "a couple days away" from training throughout the playoffs and "in need of a miracle" to play in MLS Cup with a quad injury. Mind games? Perhaps. But rest assured both teams are preparing for scenarios in which Gonzalez and Altidore do and don't feature in MLS Cup.
The $6.5 million match
An interesting subplot in all the talk of dynasties and tactics and such is that TFC captain Michael Bradley will have his contract option for 2020 automatically triggered if Toronto win MLS Cup, making it a "$6.5 million match" for club and player based on his salary this year. If they don't win, will that be his last game for TFC?
Bradley himself refused to comment on the contract situation in specific terms this week, although he made it clear he and his family consider Toronto home.
From back to front
The Sounders have eight probable starters returning from the lineup that played in the 2017 MLS Cup Final, but two key anchors of their last two MLS Cup Final appearances are gone, as defender Chad Marshall retired earlier this season and defensive midfielder Ozzie Alonso joined Minnesota United last offseason.
The result is that the emphasis for Seattle is now on their current three-headed attacking monster. Midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro has been a man possessed in the playoffs, while Morris renewed conversations over whether he's the best American in MLS at present with his showing this year.
And this will be the debut MLS Cup appearance for forward Raul Ruidiaz, who has settled into playing in MLS and living in Seattle about as well as any big midseason signing – well, at least since Lodeiro himself propelled the Sounders to the 2016 MLS Cup title in his first months in the league.
Watch Matchday Central this weekend
In addition to Friday's show, you can catch Matchday Central with special guest Ike Opara on Saturday at 4 pm ET (MLSsoccer.com, MLS App, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube) from the AT&T MLS Studios in New York City and Sunday's pregame show, at 2 pm ET and the postgame show (both on Twitter) after the final whistle. Get more details on all the Matchday Central goodness right here.