(Reuters) – The MLS Cup final will have a familiar feel as Seattle Sounders face Toronto FC in the championship game for the third time in four years but there will be more than a trophy at stake.
After splitting MLS Cup titles in 2016 and 2017, the clubs will meet on Sunday in Seattle seeking a championship that would help support their case as one of MLS’s best teams of the last decade.
“That stuff’s going to be brought up,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said this week.
“I’m aware of it. But I think for us, just our overall body of work since 2009 is what we try to focus on and this is just a continuation of it for us.”
The game will mark only the second time in MLS history that the same two teams have played each other three times in the final but the first time it has happened in such a short span. LA Galaxy and New England Revolution played each other for the MLS Cup three times over a 12-year span starting in 2002.
In the 2016 final, Seattle failed to register a shot against hosts Toronto but went on to win 5-4 on penalties.
The following year Toronto exacted revenge with a 2-0 victory at home to become the first MLS team to claim a domestic treble of MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield and Canadian Championship.
Seattle, the second seed in the Western Conference, secured their spot in Sunday’s championship game with a 3-1 win over a Los Angeles FC team that were fresh off the greatest regular season in MLS history.
Toronto, who after two consecutive MLS Cup berths missed the playoffs in 2018, punched their ticket to the final when they overcame an early deficit to beat defending champions Atlanta United 2-1.
On Sunday Toronto may once again be without striker Jozy Altidore as the former MLS Cup MVP has missed the 2019 playoffs with a quad injury and earlier this week said it would take a “little bit of a miracle” for him to play on Sunday.
Toronto head coach Greg Vanney said he expects his team will need to weather an early storm from a Seattle squad that will have the support of a sellout crowd of 69,000.
“They are at home and they will want to drive some energy into the game and see if they can push the tempo early and come away with something,” said Vanney.
“The game always settles in after 15 minutes or so and you start to see who will have a little bit more of the ball, what the real rhythm of the game will be like.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar)