Toronto FC win MLS Cup: How they did it

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 09: Jozy Altidore
TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 09: Jozy Altidore /

Toronto beat the Seattle Sounders in an MLS Cup rematch. A look at what made them successful.

Toronto FC won two trophies before the 2017 MLS Cup on Saturday. They had won the coveted Canadian Championship and they cruised to the Supporters’ Shield title, recording the most regular season points of any MLS team ever. But the MLS Cup was the silverware they always wanted.

They got it on Saturday, beating the Seattle Sounders 2-0 at BMO Field, almost a year to the day after losing on penalties to the Sounders on that same field. Here’s how they did it:

1. Toronto’s tactical switch

Manager Greg Vanney shocked the MLS world by playing a 4-4-2 diamond formation, eschewing the 3-5-2 that had mostly gotten them there. They had played the formation before, but it was surprising to see such a dramatic change in what had promised to be a tight game.

It paid off incredibly.

Michael Bradley anchored the midfield and shuttlers Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio were spectacular covering space next to Bradley and pushing TFC’s attacking envelope. They freed No. 10 Victor Vazquez to play his position; the Spaniard consistently broke Seattle’s tight lines:

The beneficiaries of that were Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, both of whom played very well. Giovinco also found ample space to distribute, particularly to overlapping full-backs Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour, who provided important width to a dominant attack.

2. TFC overwhelm the final third

I’m not aware of an NHL-style “time on attack” stat in soccer, but if it were to be applied to the MLS Cup, Toronto would have a high number. They overwhelmed the Seattle midfield and consistently outnumbered them, allowing them to keep ample possession in and around the top of the box and thus create a considerable amount of quality shots. If not for Stefan Frei’s holiness, the score would have been a lot less favorable for the Rave Green.

Even after Jozy Altidore scored the winner in the 67th minute, Seattle had no clue how to break out of the shell TFC enforced on them. Nicolas Lodeiro was absent and I’m still not sure if Clint Dempsey was on the field or not. Maybe this time they a picked up a couple shots on goal, but never once did they seriously threaten Alex Bono’s goal.

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3. Altidore steps up

TFC were by far the better team for the entire game and created numerous chances in the first two-thirds of the match, but at times it looked like it would be a similar story to last year: Seattle weather the storm for 120 minutes and then win in penalties. That outcome was thrown out the window when the Reds finally got their breakthrough.

It came when Altidore slipped through (onside, just about) the Sounders’ air-tight backline and got on the end of a brilliant Giovinco through-ball, delightfully chipping the ball over Frei on the ensuing breakaway and sending BMO into an absolute frenzy. The American center forward takes a lot of crap from USMNT fans, but he came up clutch yet again on this day.