Part III: Seattle and Toronto meet for MLS title

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Fans wearing Seattle Sounders gear pose for a photo with a giant replica of the MLS Cup trophy, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, at Pike Place Market in Seattle. Toronto FC is scheduled to face the Seattle Sounders on Sunday in the MLS Cup soccer match in Seattle, the third time the two teams will have met for the MLS championship. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

SEATTLE (AP) — When Jordan Morris takes the field in his hometown Sunday it will be a scene he could only imagine as a kid when the Sounders were in their infancy.

The team that helped changed the scope of Major League Soccer when it arrived a decade ago will host the MLS Cup final for the first time, facing Toronto FC. It’s the third meeting between the clubs in the past four years for the league championship. The venue has changed from those previous two title games — both in Toronto, each club winning once.

The Sounders weren’t supposed to be here and will be buoyed by what’s expected to be the second-largest crowd for an MLS Cup final, in excess of 69,000. They are the clear favorites despite Toronto already knocking out New York City FC and Atlanta United on the road to the final.

“We got one before and that was super special,” Morris said. “But to win one here in front of our fans — they deserve it, and this city deserves it.”

Morris was the MLS comeback player of the year after returning from a major knee injury that cost him all of last season. While he’s a critical piece for Seattle, it’s the spine of the lineup that drives the Sounders.

It starts in the back with goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who was the star of Seattle’s championship victory in 2016. Cristian Roldan has become a premier two-way player in the midfielder, able to push into the attack and cover defensively. Nicolas Lodeiro is Seattle’s playmaking wiz and he’s often trying to set up striker Raul Ruidiaz, who had two goals in the upset of LAFC in the conference finals.

“They’re playing at home in front of their fans,” Toronto midfielder Jonathan Osorio said. “I’m pretty sure they’re going to want to bring that energy and want to be in control of the game and try and bring the fans into it especially from the beginning and keep their fans into it.”

But Toronto showed during its playoff run that being at home can be overrated. It’s been three months since Toronto last lost a match, a stretch of 13 straight unbeaten, including wins in the past four. It closed the regular season with a victory over Columbus and rolled through D.C. United to open the postseason. But its last two wins were the most impressive of the unbeaten streak — NYCFC and Atlanta.

While Spanish newcomer Alejandro Pozuelo has been a star after arriving in the spring, it’s been Toronto’s role players and especially its midfield — led by Michael Bradley — sparking the playoff success.

“It starts their press. Their willingness to cover space, to drop off,” Seattle’s Cristian Roldan said. “Sometimes with body language you can set a tone and those three in the midfield certainly do so. … They’re workhorses.”

ALTIDORE’S UNCERTAINTY

Toronto striker Jozy Altidore hasn’t played in the postseason because of a quadriceps injury. He has done some light work with trainers but has not participated in a full training with the team since his injury.

Altidore had the opening goal in the 2017 final victory. He had 11 goals in 22 regular season games this season.

“I’m just trying to get myself as close as able to contribute as possible,” Altidore said.

FIND THE NET

In the two previous championship game appearances, the Sounders have exactly zero goals. They played Toronto to a 0-0 draw over 120 minutes in the 2016 final before prevailing on penalties. Toronto dominated the 2017 final in a 2-0 victory in which Seattle managed just two shots on target.

THE OTHER GOALKEEPER

Toronto’s Quentin Westberg had a playoff highlight in the conference finals against Atlanta. He saved a penalty from Josef Martinez early in the match when Atlanta had a chance to go ahead 2-0. Westberg has made 14 saves over the three playoff games.

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