|Like that, only with a couple consolation goals...|
MLS Cup: Conference Champions...Revealed!
I never heard what Greg Vanney had to say just after halftime.
The 20-minute mini-game cut off the highlights right as Vanney, Toronto FC’s coach, was about to reveal his secrets – e.g. maybe that they’d channeled demons into Jozy Altidore (for he did play possessed), or that someone finally explained to Nick Hagglund, at long last, that he enjoys the freedom to score goals, as well as keep them out (or maybe that he was much bigger and faster than the Montreal Impact’s Marco Donadel). Vanney’s words could have explained everything, or nothing. What was clear from the start, though, was that Toronto hit the field turned up to 11 (shit, used a cliché). Nothing made that apparent quite like Michael Bradley’s slashing/manically-determined run into Montreal’s penalty area inside the first minute. (NOTE: Due to where and when I post, I only have the capacity to link to the match highlights; sorry for the inconvenience!)
Toronto simply never let up; if they ran over the Impact, they did it slowly. Or, rather than ran them over during the game, then backed over them in extra time. Count me among those shocked by Montreal’s set-piece defending (assuming such population exists). Hagglund got crazy-free twice (at least) and those lapses led to a panic/assist on (was it?) Toronto’s first, cleaned up by Armando Cooper (if memory serves), and the goal that forced extra time. At least Montreal had an excuse when it came to Hagglund – no one saw him coming – but, because they were warned about Altidore (see?), one has to ask just what the goofy fuck Montreal was thinking by letting Altidore run completely unmarked right before half; that was one hell of a tricky goal, but Jozy was good for it (again, possibly due to possession; there was no other word for how he approached the game all day, other than “surging”).
Montreal didn’t so much lie down, as protect its vitals for as long as it could while slipping in a couple pokes with a shiv. Dominic Oduro – who quietly put in a very credible year, as well as a rock-solid playoff run, which breaks his famous every-other-year pattern (congrats, kid!) – set himself up for the goal that could have won the series (against anything but a freight train) with the kind of touch he pulls off once every cycle of the moon. Piatti stuck in another one when he wrestled Montreal’s second goal over the goal-line. It was a brave performance, but Toronto was in what some folks call “a mood.”
The question is whether that “mood” carries over to MLS Cup. As we all know (Timbers fans, as well as anybody), Toronto will face the Seattle Sounders in the 2016 season finale. If they can bring the same energy as they did against Montreal, and if Toronto’s big players show up (Altidore mostly; looked like a tough outing for Sebastian Giovinco), Seattle damn well better match it. As I noted in my write-up for Seattle’s win over the Colorado Rapids in the Western Conference Final, Seattle has rounded into one hell of a solid team. In beating Colorado, however, Seattle didn’t face anything close to Toronto’s firepower.
Off the top of my head – and this is based more on last night than last Sunday – one thing to watch will be Toronto’s fullbacks. Faced with Montreal’s blocks of defenders, Toronto essentially played around them, and most of their success came from crosses. With Chad Marshall and Roman Torres back there, Seattle won’t be nearly as easy to beat on crosses as Montreal proved to be.
With all the dead air between now and a week from Saturday, we’ll have ample time to talk about MLS Cup…even through Will Parchman just beat all comers to the punch (he did flag my thing with the fullbacks, too, if from a different angle – though his point about Seattle’s fullbacks getting in behind is well-taken when it comes to Joevin Jones; also, his notes on Altidore v. Osvaldo Alonso is a good addition).
One Big, Tragic Absence
It feels appropriate to acknowledge a tragedy that lurks on the side of Seattle’s first (and, if god is listening, only) trip to MLS Cup: Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer confirmed that Clint Dempsey will not be able to play next Saturday. And, yeah, it sucks to see a player of his caliber, a guy who has meant as much to soccer in the States as much as Dempsey get screwed out of a chance to return to, and win, an MLS Cup. Love him, hate him, Dempsey mattered; and he deserves a better hand than the one fate dealt him.
December 13: Everyone Else's Shitty Christmas
Speaking of love/hate relationships, say what you will about MLSSoccer.com, at least they know that some portion of the league’s fans have, oh, more or less stopped paying attention, now that their teams are out of it. Barring silly-season talk, the next event on the calendar for every fan in MLS (well, maybe not every) is the Expansion Draft. The date’s up above, and, contrary to common practice, the league put out some clear information as to the rules for this particular player acquisition model. Broadly, though, each team in MLS gets to protect 11 players, leaving the rest as fair pickins for both United FCs (that’s Minnesota and Atlanta, and, seriously? Both of you went that way?) (Again, sorry, I realize that all of you know that already; still catching up), who will each get to select five players from those on offer…
…and suddenly, the Portland Timbers’ entire 2016 campaign makes sense. Devalue the assets. Very clever, Mr. Porter, and well-played!