2017 MLS Cup Playoffs

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Don’t gloss over Toronto FC’s richly deserved crown

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The embarrassment of riches that is 2017 treble winning Toronto FC is a richly-deserved experience for the Ontario faithful.

That may seem a bit farfetched for a supporter base with just 11 seasons of league play under its belt, but in many ways the Reds crammed about 50 years of misery into their first decade.

Allow me this personal indulgence as a regional microcosm of TFC trials.

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The year is 2008, and friends north of the border have need of partners in their two-year-old habit of TFC season tickets. Given a love of the game and a less than two hour drive from Buffalo to BMO Field, we leap at the chance.

The Reds had won seven games in their inaugural campaign, but had signed Pescadito and hired ex-Leeds and Newcastle assistant John Carver (We didn’t know then what we know now). And it all looked great when Rohan Ricketts scored a brace on June 14, moving the team to 6W-4L-2T.

They won one of the next 14 league games. Toronto committed a similar grievance the following season — Two wins from 11 after a 7W-6L-4T start — compounding it by failing to score over 180 minutes of CONCACAF Champions League play against the Puerto Rico Islanders. Following a scoreless friendly against River Plate, we bid TFC the best and saddled up with a nascent club closer to home.

More misery followed for Toronto supporters, and little soothed the frayed nerves of the faithful enough Red Patch Boys. Little swings, like the signing of Mista, missed. The drafting woes were almost comical, selecting consecutive players the picks before Sporting KC took Roger Espinoza. The next year? O’Brian White when three of the next four picks were Rodney Wallace, Chris Pontius, and Matt Besler. 2010 and 2011? First round picks traded for Adrian Serioux and Nathan Sturgis.

This is a long way of describing why embattled American fans may not quite understand what Michael Bradley and Company have done up in Toronto, and why Canadian fans adore their bald-domed metronome. Even forgetting for a second that Bradley was a 90-minute force on Saturday.

Bezbatchenko(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Yes, Toronto spends money. This is nothing new, though, having names like Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans through the door in years past. But it’s how they spend money now under general manager Tim Bezbatchenko.

And for every discussion on how Bradley and Jozy Altidore may be better for country had they stayed overseas, or how Sebastian Giovinco somehow wound up in Toronto, there’s a solid acquisition like Justin Morrow or draft pick Alex Bono. There are savvy signings Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour, and the mining of MVP candidate Victor Vazquez from Club Brugge via Cruz Azul.

Jonathan Osorio developed in house.

Eriq Zavaleta for a second round pick.

Marky Delgado off the Chivas USA scrap heap.

Chris Mavinga from no more than 20 league matches anywhere in the world in recent history.

This is, without a doubt, the best team in Major League Soccer history. MLS is by far as good as its ever been, and Toronto FC took that class and dominated it. Say what you will about where the league stands internationally, but TFC didn’t just beat the teams on its docket; It largely crushed them.

We can only hope it sticks together through a CONCACAF Champions League season, and maybe gives MLS its best chance at a Club World Cup.

But for now, appreciate that Toronto’s ambitious project finally executed the plan its supporters deserved. On a cold night and its third time of asking — the first time TFC wasn’t even in the match — an MLS Cup was won by the boys in red at BMO. And the entire crew deserved it.

Sounders finish off Dynamo to set up MLS Cup rematch

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
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The game in 100 words (or less): MLS Cup 2017 will be a rematch of MLS Cup 2016 — same two teams, same venue, hopefully not the same boring final. Toronto FC booked their place by narrowly knocking off Columbus Crew SC on Wednesday, a day before the Seattle Sounders soundly defeated the Houston Dynamo, 3-0 on the night and 5-0 on aggregate, to claim a second straight Western Conference championship. The finalists will meet at BMO Field — where Seattle knocked off Toronto last year — on Saturday, Dec. 9. Victor Rodriguez scored the early goal that, for all intents and purposes, put the tie to bed. Clint Dempsey and Will Bruin chipped in with a second and third on the night, respectively, as Seattle native Brian Schmetzer watched his side cruise into next weekend’s

[ MORE: MVP favorites Valeri, Villa headline 2017 Best XI ]

Three moments that mattered

22′ — Bruin sets up Rodriguez, and it’s 3-0 — Ladies and gentlemen, Will Bruin, the play-making no. 10.

57′ — Dempsey taps home a perfect ball from Jones — It’s a shame Joevin Jones will be leaving MLS on a free transfer this winter.

66′ — Martinez sees red for violent conduct — What Tomas Martinez does here isn’t so much violent or dangerous, as it is bafflingly stupid and unnecessary. The stupidity is so nearly deserving of the sending-off on its own.

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Man of the match: Will Bruin

Goalscorers: Rodriguez (22′), Dempsey (57′), Bruin (73′)

Toronto FC heading back to MLS Cup Final

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in (a bit more than) 100 words: Toronto FC is going to host the MLS Cup for the second-straight season, and this time could become the first team in league history to claim a domestic treble (TFC won the Canadian Championship and the Supporters’ Shield). Victor Vazquez saw his first half penalty saved by Zack Steffen, but the ex-Barca man had the primary assist on Jozy Altidore‘s goal to put the hosts in front after an hour of play. Altidore, by the way, had been limping around on a bum wheel for a good 7-10 minutes for his best Willis Reed impression.

Columbus had three glorious chances, and Ola Kamara couldn’t find an 88th minute loose ball through traffic with nothing but goal in front of him. Justin Meram had the other two. In the first half, he was foiled by Michael Bradley. In the second, he scooped over the bar.

Three moments that mattered

22′ — TFC’s captain catches up to the Crew — Bradley was a little lax in his tracking, and that allowed Columbus a 2v1 chance. Ola Kamara slid the ball across to Justin Meram, but Bradley timed his sliding intervention well and broke up the play.

26′ — Steffen saves TFC PK — Josh Williams hauled down Drew Moor on a corner kick, and Vazquez strode to the spot. His quick run-up attempt was foiled when Steffen flew to his right to parry Vazquez’s attempt. It remained scoreless.

60′ — Giovinco to Jozy to Vazquez to Jozy — Sebastian Giovinco sucked two defenders to him a few yards outside the 18, the backheeled to Altidore for a 1-2 with Vazquez that ended up inside far post’s side netting (Kisses thumb and pointer finger like I made a nice sauce).

87′ — Kamara can’t find equalizer (literally) — Ola Kamara has scored a lot of goals, so it’s going to drive him nuts that this one eluded his vision.

Goals: Altidore (60′)

Man of the Match: Justin Morrow

Cristian Roldan is the Sounders unassuming, unknown star

Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP
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TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) Most times when the topic of young midfielder Cristian Roldan is brought up, Seattle Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer can’t stop raving.

From the time Roldan moved into the starting lineup for the Sounders, Schmetzer has seen the potential for Roldan to be an anchor in the middle of the field. And the U.S. national team is starting to take notice, too.

“He consistently puts in good performances,” Schmetzer said. “Not just physically, but tactically and technically he puts in really solid performances.”

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Roldan will never have the big goal numbers like teammates Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris, but he’s among the players who have the Sounders on the cusp of a return to the MLS Cup final. Seattle takes a 2-0 lead into the second-leg of the Western Conference final against Houston on Thursday night. The Sounders would advance with a win, draw or even a one-goal loss.

Roldan has been the anchor for most of this year, the best of his three MLS seasons. The midfielder is worthy of consideration for the MLS Best XI and is among the options for a national team not likely to play a match of importance until 2019.

“I think it’s been positive. I still believe I have a ton to improve on and I never want to get settled on this season, on being decent,” Roldan said. “I want to get better. I want to get in to the national team consistently and next year is another year and I want to keep improving. I’ve been very happy with this year but never content and I think that’s a positive going forward.”

Roldan started 33 of 34 regular season matches this season and finished with six goals. He played the second-most minutes of anyone on Seattle’s roster.

Again, stats will never tell the full story with the Roldan. Not when his job is to be able to push forward to help the offensive attack, but sometimes race 70 or 80 yards back on defense to help shut down an offensive attack by the opposition.

It’s that ability to play both ways that drew the attention of the national team. Roldan was called up for the first time during the summer when the U.S. was playing in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and made his national team debut. But the more important call up came later in the summer when Roldan was part of the camp prior to World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras.

“To be in the second-to-last qualifiers where the U.S. is facing elimination for the World Cup, that’s a huge deal,” Roldan said. “Hopefully I can get to the point where I’m playing and starting every game, but to be in the running as my second call up that is big for my career going forward and I think it was big for this year as a confidence boost.”

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Dempsey recalled being in a similar situation as Roldan early in his career and getting that first national team call up was a huge influence on the development of his career.

“I would say confidence is a huge thing, being able to know he can play at that level. The more experience you get playing in games, playing in big games you get that confidence and also you improve,” Dempsey said. “He keeps working on his skills, keeps working on his game, looking at tape, trying to figure out ways to better himself and when you’re hungry and you work hard, you’re only going to get better. He has to keep pushing and doing what he’s doing and that’s kind of what I had to do.”

MLS Conference Finals: Toronto, Seattle on collision course?

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The ties are leaning away from the underdog stories as the MLS Cup Conference Finals reach their second legs.

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Reigning champs Seattle are 90 minutes away from a return to the final after scoring a pair of away goals in Texas, while Toronto needs a win at home to bring out the fine china for a rematch of the 2016 title game at BMO Field.

Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew — 7:30 p.m. ET Wednesday
Scoreless after one leg

The good news for Columbus Crew is that a scoring draw is good enough to take them through to a second MLS Cup Final in three seasons under Gregg Berhalter, taking the embarrassment of owner Anthony Precourt’s public desire to relocate an MLS original club to Austin, Texas.

The bad news? That scoring draw has to come at noisy BMO Field against the team with the best record in MLS history, a Toronto FC bunch which will be welcoming Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco back to the fold after suspension.

Columbus has veteran savvy and some wild cards like Pedro Santos, but it’s going to take a lot of defending to handle TFC’s field-switching work and busy full backs (let alone Altidore and Giovinco).

Seattle Sounders vs. Houston Dynamo — 10:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Seattle leads 2-0

Clint Dempsey is among the most important and accomplished players in American history, and his work since returning to Major League Soccer certainly ticks a lot of boxes: influential, clutch, prolific.

He’s helped the Sounders to an almost insurmountable advantage. At home for the second leg, the Sounders can make Houston’s task near impossible just by scoring a goal.

That said, Wilmer Cabrera is a heck of a coach and has assets that can attack and fire at will. While it may be improbable for Alberth Elis and Erick Torres to spring a massive comeback in Washington, it’s not quite impossible. That’s about as much as we can give the orange-clad men from Texas.