SEATTLE — Instead of sitting back as some predicted they may do, Toronto FC went into CenturyLink Field as the underdogs for MLS Cup and controlled play for most of the game.
Toronto respected the quality of Seattle in transition, as well as in the final third, and their plan called for them to dominate the game through possession. The old adage of if we have it, they can't score.
By halftime Toronto had done just that, holding 65% possession but weren't able to find a finishing touch. The warning signs were there, however, as Sounders showed their danger on the break. It culminated with a golden opportunity just before halftime that Raul Ruidiaz uncharacteristically failed to capitalize on.
“In general, I thought we played well," TFC head coach Greg Vanney told reporters after the game. "We minimized their amount of counterattacks, especially in the first half. In the second half we turned over the ball too much, the ball movement slowed down. Too many touches. It got bogged down, and when it bogs down to a team that wants to play in transition, you’re in trouble.”
In the 57th minute, Seattle found their goal in transition as Vanney feared. On a play that a handful of TFC players thought was a foul, Seattle won the ball in the middle third and immediately went forward, before Kelvin Leerdam's deflected strike found the back of the net.
“When you are the possession team, where you lose balls is really important," Vanney said. "If you lose balls by finishing attacks, it’s not a problem. If you lose balls between the lines, you’re playing into the hands of a team that’s looking to hit you on transition so that became part of our issue.”
From there, the Sounders never looked back.
“Look, finals are tight," Michael Bradley said. "Both teams step on the field with everything to play for and concentration is at the absolute highest level. You always know to break the game open, you’re going to need that extra bit of sharpness, that extra bit of quality or a little bit of a break, bounce or deflection. Obviously they got that today and were able to use that, get the second goal which really tilts the bar in their favor.”
Vanney often came back to speed of play during his press conference.
“There was a tendency from our group to try to do too much," Vanney explained. "Too much spinning around in midfield on the ball, not enough ball circulation. In the first half, the difference was they could never catch up with the ball so we kept moving the ball to the open player. Too much dwelling on the ball."
TFC star forward Jozy Altidore, who returned from injury to make his Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs debut, was proud of the way his team played.
“[The gameplan] looked like a lot of what we’ve been doing," Altidore said. "We have the ball, we’re playing through them almost at will and creating chances. We just missed that final piece of quality.”