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MLS Cup 2016: A few things to expect

A few thoughts on the tactics and the match ups of tonights big game, plus a prediction.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC Training Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

So we didn’t make it to the big game. We certainly got closer than anyone thought we would.

Rapids fans should still tune in to watch MLS Cup on Fox and Unimas at 6pm MST tonight. Here’s a few thoughts.

Who should I, a neutral Rapids fan, root for?

Probably Toronto FC, for a few reasons.

TFC have two former Rapids who, more or less, left the club on good terms to end 2015. GK Clint Irwin became expendable when the Rapids went out and got Tim Howard, and was sent to Toronto in exchange for TAM, a 3rd round pick in the 2016 SuperDraft and a conditional 1st round pick in the 2017 SuperDraft. CB Drew Moor departed Colorado for Toronto as MLS’ second ever Free Agent. Justin Mapp was the first. I hope that helps you to win a bar bet someday.

Seattle Sounders reserve Nathan Sturgis was a Rapid in 2013 and 2014. Maybe you’re a big Nathan Sturgis fan. Maybe you own his jersey. If so, Seattle is your team.

If you want to root for the most former Rapids, though; if you want to root for the most recent Rapids; if you want to root for two Rapids that will actually be on the field Saturday night; Toronto is your favorite team.

Another factor you might consider is the whole ‘I’m bitter Seattle knocked us out, and I have nothing but scorn in my heart for them.’ Bitterness and hatred, while not healthy regular emotions, are good short term motivators. You can legitimately take your bitterness out on Seattle by cheering for TFC.

USMNT fans are probably pulling for TFC too, despite the fact that it is, you know, Canada. That’s because the core of the US team is TFC midfielder Michael Bradley and striker Jozy Altidore. When Jozy and Michael are happy and scoring goals, it makes me happy as an American.

The last thing you could consider is the ‘insufferable fan base’ factor. Seattle, with their massive fanbase, gleaming stadium, gaudy colors, and openly expressed frustration about ‘never having won MLS Cup in their long, long seven year history’*, are quite insufferable.

If you were born in Seattle, if you work for Starbucks, or if you worship the band Nirvana, you should root for Seattle. All other sensible humans are pulling for TFC.

What should we expect?

An up-tempo goal-fest.

TFC and the Sounders are both teams known more for offense than defense, especially in the latter half of the year. Although Seattle scored only 44 goals on the year, 14th in MLS, they scored 30 of those goals in the second half of the year.

Meanwhile, Toronto FC have been an absolute buzzsaw in the post-season, scoring a gobsmacking 17 goals in 5 games in the playoffs, better than their closest competitor by 5 goals.

Both teams prefer to get their fullbacks forward, with TFC playing a 5-3-2 formation that really maximizes the use of their wingbacks. And while Seattle employs two defensive midfielders in their 4-2-3-1, Cristian Roldan and Ozzie Alonso both get forward to be the second runner often, following the forwards for a top-of-the-box shot or to put away a rebound.

Any key matchups?

Oh golly, yes.

Seattle has two bulky centerbacks that are really physical and talented. Chad Marshall is a smart defender and has excellent instincts in defending set pieces. Roman Torres is big and tough, but also occasionally has lapses that put him in the wrong place at the wrong time. Toronto can throw a great mix of attackers at those two to create havok: Jozy Altidore with size and good footwork, Tosaint Ricketts with speed, and of course, the incredible dribbling and skill of Sebastian Giovinco. If TFC find themselves putting Seattles midfielders behind them, watch out.

On the other side, wunderkind rookie Jordan Morris will be key for Seattle. He’ll likely start as a roaming right midfield/forward. Toronto will probably defend him with defender Nick Hagglund, a 2014 SuperDraft 1st round pick. He’ll try to stop Morris along with the aforementioned Bradley and Moor.

One last matchup is Sounders number ten Nicolas Lodeiro vs. the entire Toronto team. Lodeiro created problems for the Rapids, who did fairly well at picking up defensive responsibility for Nico as he entered each players zone, but still burned the team for a few filthy passes and one very big penalty in the box. Toronto will need to shift very quickly from offense to defense on turnovers, getting back into shape and closing down space on Lodeiro, or Seattle could be up by more a goal or more by the half.

Final Prediction?

Seattle 2, Toronto 2. Game goes to PKs, Toronto wins 4-3 in front of the hometown fans.

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* My father is a Boston Red Sox fan. He waited sixty years to see his team win the World Series. I am a Los Angeles Dodger fan. I saw them win it all when I was 11 years old. I am now 40 years old. Just saying.