Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders met each other in the 2016 and 2017 MLS Cup Finals. In 2016, Seattle were crowned champions after winning 5-4 on penalty kicks. This was an epic final, with Stefan Frei capping the occasion off with one of the best saves you’ll ever see.
The Canadian club found redemption in 2017. Toronto beat their foes by a score 2-0 scoreline in front of their home supporters at BMO Field.
But since their last MLS Cup appearances, these two once heralded clubs have fallen on hard times.
So what has happened to these clubs? Why have they fallen so far from grace? We examine some of the underlying issues for both sides.
Injuries hamper Sounders
One thing that has hurt Seattle more than anything so far this season has been injuries. Even before the campaign kicked off, the Sounders knew they would be without the services of twenty-three-year-old Jordan Morris. The speedy winger, known for cutting inside and creating chances on his own, tore his ACL before the season began. It’s been an injury ridden last few months for the budding star and his presence on the pitch is certainly missing.
The Sounders’ other playmaker has not been at his best either this season, and his name is Nicolás Lodeiro. Part of the speculation around the Uruguayan is that the injury that he does have isn’t really all that severe. However, with it being a World Cup year (and now on the provisional roster for Uruguay), perhaps Brian Schmetzer has been more cautious than usual.
Without Morris, however, and a less than 100% Lodeiro, Seattle has struggled in the final third of the pitch. In their absence, Schmetzer has turned to oft-injured striker Will Bruin up top, and a hodge-podge collection of attacking midfielders. And what have they produced this season? A measly seven goals. Colorado is the only other club that has yet to hit double digits in goals scored.
Losing to the bottom of the barrel
Toronto are in a similar situation. The 2017 MLS Cup champions sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, one point in front of the Montreal Impact and D.C. United. They have a minus six goal differential and have scored just 14 goals this season.
The diminutive Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore have just two goals each, while Giovinco has added four assists, this season.
On April 14th, Toronto were shutout by a score of 2-0 to the lowly Colorado Rapids. That was a tough loss to take. As things stand now, the Rapids have mustered just nine points. Three of those came against the defending MLS Cup Champions. That cannot happen if your goal is to make another deep run into the playoffs.
Giovinco’s goal drought is certainly not for lack of trying. He has 74 shots so far this season, but only 23 of those have found the target.
One thing that has set him back, however, is the injury bug. The Italian had just recovered from a heel injury when he suffered a strained quadriceps. Altidore, meanwhile, is currently out after having bone fragments removed from his foot. Any team missing their two biggest playmakers is going to suffer in attack.
Prioritizing a Champions League run
The other issue for Toronto could have been the added games on their schedule. Toronto made a deep run in this year’s CONCACAF Champions League. Playing three consecutive knockout rounds against Liga MX sides is a daunting task. Toronto squared off against Tigres UANL first and advanced on away goals, after losing leg two by a score of 3-2. Then, they beat Club America 3-1 at home to take a commanding victory.
Toronto became the closest MLS side to win this new variation of the CONCACAF Champions League. They lost the first leg at home to Chivas by a score of 2-1 before beating them in Guadalajara by that same score line. That meant penalties. Unfortunately, the Canadian club missed two and a Liga MX team took the trophy once more.
But when you add it up, that’s six extra matches and three trips down to Mexico. That in of itself is quite taxing.
But there might be a way back for either of these two clubs. Major League Soccer, despite all of its shortcomings, is a forgiving league. Get hot at the right time and you could make a run into the playoffs and possibly beyond. You just have to live with the unrest until then.