Greg Vanney

AP Photo/Billy Weeks

Toronto FC adds Agudelo in Re-Entry Draft; Cincinnati picks Abdul-Salaam

Leave a comment

Few selections in Major League Soccer’s re-entry draft inspire true intrigue, but Toronto FC’s newest selection warrants a close look after what the Reds did in 2018.

The latest pick-up is Juan Agudelo from New England, and Toronto will be thrilled if he has the same impact as last season’s selection of Nick DeLeon, who scored 10 goals across all competitions in a career year. One of those was an MLS Cup-clinching wonder goal against Atlanta United.

[ MORE: MLS announces conference tweaks ]

The 27-year-old Agudelo is coming off two rough seasons in which he only scored three goals, but scored seven goals in each of his first three MLS seasons since returning from overseas, where he had signed for Stoke City but only appeared for FC Utrecht in the Netherlands having not gained a work permit.

Agudelo brings 28 USMNT caps and three goals to Greg Vanney’s Reds, and is now 27 years old.

The only other selection in Tuesday’s Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Draft was FC Cincinnati taking Saad Abdul-Salaam from Seattle Sounders, the former Akron man moving closer to where he starred in college.

MLS Cup: Five key questions on Seattle Sounders vs Toronto FC

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Despite the emergence and rise of the Atlanta United’s and LAFC’s of the world, MLS is going to complete its first MLS Cup trilogy in front of a sold-out CenturyLink Field on Sunday, as the Seattle Sounders take on Toronto FC for the third time in four years.

Make no mistakes, however, the stakes remain high – perhaps higher than ever before – as both sides look to add a second star above their crest. With the financial and quality bar consistently being raised across the board, this may be the first and last MLS Cup trilogy for a pair of decades.

So, who will win it? Will Jozy Altidore even make the visitor’s 18? Pro Soccer Talk answers some of the most pressing questions ahead of the highly-anticipated final.

Will Jozy Altidore take the field for Toronto? 

Let it be clear: Even if Altidore was ready to go, Toronto are still in Yakima, Washington looking in. Now, without the striker in the equation entirely, things start going from bitter to sour instantaneously for the Reds.

Which begs the question: where does Altidore’s health stand less than 24 hours away from the final?

“I got on the field yesterday, it felt good going through the motions and set-ups,” Altidore told reporters on Saturday. “It felt good. Today is another day to push it more and try to make myself available. This is it, the last day before the game. See how it reacts, put it under a little more stress.”

And according to coach Greg Vanney, Toronto are preparing for an MLS Cup with the 30-year-old healthy and ready to go – not 100 percent, just healthy enough to see some minutes on the field.

“We were able to get him through training yesterday, he was okay coming out of it,” Vanney said. “This morning we did as much as we felt we could do. If he comes out of it okay tonight, we’ll see what kind of role — if any — he can play tomorrow. He’s battled through this injury, I’m still hopeful that tomorrow when he gets up and feels great. If there’s nothing really wrong with him, we’ll try and make use of him as much as possible. I’m encouraged with the steps he’s been able to take so far.”

So, it sounds like it won’t take a miracle after all for Altidore to feature in the biggest game of the season. Or maybe the miracle already occurred.

Now is there enough pixie dust on the striker for him to step up and make a difference like the one he did against Seattle on a blistering cold night in Toronto back in 2017?

Is CenturyLink Field’s atmosphere going to outshine last year’s venue?  

Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium was loud in last year’s final, and the record-breaking 73,019 spectators in attendance had everything to do with it.

On Sunday, the attendance won’t be up to par to last year’s, but if CenturyLink Field has been known for something over the past 17 years, it’s the decibels and seismic activity it can generate. 69,000 are expected for the final, with the strong majority boasting Sounders blue, rave green, and cascade shale.

The Sounders already put on a spectacle at home throughout the regular season. With anxiety, thrill and excitement that finals bring to them by association, expect a couple of tremors in Seattle, if the Sounders deliver in emphatic fashion.

Raul Ruidiaz or Alejandro Pozuelo: Who needs to step up more? 

With Toronto being the unapologetic underdog, instinctually, one would immediately turn and point at Pozuelo.

After all, the least one can ask for in that position is for your best player to live up to the billing in the most meaningful game of the season. Espcially with Altidore’s participation still in doubt, there are more reasons to pile the pressure on Pozuelo, who has scored two goals in Toronto’s playoff run.

After taking the league and Seattle by storm, doesn’t Ruidiaz have a world of business to finish, though?

“It would be very special,” Ruidiaz said of winning MLS Cup against Toronto. “It would be my second title overseas. I won a championship in Chile. I think when you arrive at a club you always have the desire to give the team the biggest joy, which is a star (above the crest) for the team.

“I’m a small step away from that and from achieving what we we all want, which is to give a moment of joy to a city and club that deserve it.”

Long story short, he does.

Like Pozuelo for Toronto, Ruidiaz is one of Seattle’s most lucrative investments ever. His impact on and off the field has been invaluable for a team that was desperately trying to fill the shoes of Clint Dempsey. He’s elevated teammates Nico Lodeiro and Jordan Morris. They’ve gotten everything from it besides the cup, the star above the crest.

Ultimately, it’s a world of choice. But keep in mind that one player is encouraged to be at his best, while the other is expected to deliver for a city ready to see its team lift the cup at home.

What will another MLS Cup mean for either team? 

Only five teams have two or more MLS Cups, but that will change by the time Allen Chapman blows the final whistle.

Another piece of silverware for Seattle would expand their total count to seven, while Toronto can add a ninth to their trophy case. There are no doubts that both teams are embodiment of historical success in their respective countries.

As the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., how do you pump the brakes on being MLS’ highest payroll spenders with a fresh, second star above the crest in a market that has showcased true, organic hunger for not only the sport in general, but for the Toronto FC?

You don’t, and it’s unlikely that Ali Curtis comes back to the office with a tighter financial proposal. If anything, a win would encourage higher investment all across the board and especially on the first-team, regardless if Michael Bradley’s $6.5 million option is triggered. After all, they can get creative, hence Pozuelo’s sitcom episode-esque arrival.

The same goes for the Sounders.

A second star would generate a soccer buzz unlike any other for the proper and great community of Seattle, while it would also invites majority owner Adrian Hanauer to keep the Sounders within the top six spenders of the league. With Xavier Arreaga likely to be demoted from his Designated Player role in the offseason, there will be room for the Sounders to make an additional splash.

In the end, as it is anywhere in the world of sports, titles bring bragging rights and an influx of cash. Seattle and Toronto will not be the exceptions.

When all is said and done, who will hoist the cup?

Arguably better on all sectors of the field, the 2019 MLS Cup is Seattle’s to lose, there are no ifs, ands or buts about it.

However, when the ball starts rolling on the artificial turf, determination and hunger will quickly weave out the side that holds lower levels of the aforementioned. With over 60,000 chanting to the tune of their crest and colors, it’s unlikely that Toronto will gain the cognitive advantage.

That said, the visitors are outweighed in both departments, and will need to lean on heroic moments like the ones showcased by Nicolas Benezet and Nick DeLeon against Atlanta United. An MLS Cup seems fitting for pure, sacred MLS soccer, no?

Sure, but there have been times in which MLS doesn’t MLS for the sake of just MLSing. The feeling in the air is that Sunday is one of those, which in practice, looks like a physical, choppy and segmented battle in which Seattle will come out on top.

Altidore needs ‘a miracle’ to suit up in MLS Cup Final

Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

It may take divine intervention for Jozy Altidore to return for Sunday’s MLS Cup Final in Seattle, which doesn’t bode well for his chances to suit up for the USMNT later this month.

[ MORE: Emery attacker use in focus ]

Altidore has 11 goals and 8 assists in 22 matches for Toronto FC this season, but has not played since the final match of the regular season.

And while TFC manager Greg Vanney responded that he believes in miracles, Altidore says it’s gonna take just that to have him ready by Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.

From The Canadian Press:

“It’s been a while. At this point, it’ll take a little bit of a miracle to be out there on Sunday,” he said, referencing the MLS Cup final in Seattle against the Sounders. “But that’s where I am. And I’ve just got to try to keep trying to get myself there.”

That means more run for Tsubasa Endoh and Patrick Mullins, and the Reds are a big underdog for Sunday’s afternoon match.

It also means, which perhaps it should have any way, that Josh Sargent should be front and center for a massive CONCACAF Nations League match against Canada on Nov. 15.

Vanney, Morgan, Pulisic earn major CONCACAF Awards

Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Leave a comment

CONCACAF announced its Male and Female Players of the Year on Monday — Keylor Navas and Alex Morgan — and rolled out the rest of their honors a day later.

Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney was named Male Coach of the Year for the confederation on Tuesday, while Christian Pulisic restored an American male to the CONCACAF Best XI after a year with no winner.

Portland Thorns backstop Adrianna Franch nipped countrywoman Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride) to the CONCACAF Female Goalkeeper of the Year.

[ REPORT: Chelsea, Arsenal, United chase Zaha ]

Pulisic slides into a 3-4-3 with Navas, Cristian Gamboa, Hector Moreno, Kendall Waston, Roman Torres, Bryan Ruiz, Hector Herrera, Wilde-Donald Guerrier, Hirving Lozano, and Alberth Elis.

Waston, Torres, and Elis play in MLS.

The Female Best XI was predictable USWNT-heavy, with Marta and Jessie Fleming the only foreign players in the team. The U.S. players are: Franch, Abby Dahlkemper, Ali Krieger, Becky Sauerbrunn, Emily Menges, Allie Long, Carli Lloyd, Lindsay Horan, and Morgan.

Greg Vanney named MLS Coach of the Year

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It shouldn’t really come as a surprise to many, but Toronto FC’s historic 2017 season has earned its manager significant accolades within Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: Anthony Hudson could be Rapids’ next head coach ]

TFC head coach Greg Vanney was selected as MLS Coach of the Year on Monday after guiding his side to the Supporters’ Shield, as well as the top spot in the Eastern Conference regular season.

The 43-year-old beat out Atlanta’s Gerardo Martino, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic and NYCFC’s Patrick Vieira for the award, while Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson and Columbus’ Gregg Berhalter finished fifth and sixth, respectively.

Vanney and his side are currently vying for a place in MLS Cup for the second consecutive year as TFC battles with Columbus Crew SC in the East final.

Under Vanney, Toronto has improved each season thus far, and the former U.S. Men’s National Team defender boasts a 61-41-30 record in three-and-a-half seasons with the Canadian club.

The award is Vanney’s first as a manager, after FC Dallas’ Oscar Pareja took home the honors in 2016.