Toronto FC just needed a win. Any win.
On Dec. 9, 2017, the season that brought the Canadian Championship, the Supporters’ Shield and the Eastern Conference title to BMO Field came to an end. But the trophy TFC wanted above all — the MLS Cup — was on the line.
In Toronto’s way stood the Seattle Sounders, who played spoilers 12 months earlier and lifted the cup via shootout victory after a 0-0 draw. This time, the Reds won the conference semifinal on away goals and then won the conference final by a single strike — a far less convincing style than the way they had crushed the field in 2016.
It didn’t matter. Any win would do.
What followed was one of the most thorough, one-sided MLS Cup victories the league has ever seen.
“We knew that the year before they lost this final in penalties,” midfielder Victor Vázquez, who joined the team after the 2016 defeat, said Tuesday ahead of Seattle’s return to Toronto for a rematch Wednesday night. “Then we step on the field like it’s all or nothing and we have to do it this year.
“Because to lose two times against the same team, and at home, and two finals, it will be really hard for us.”
TFC captain Michael Bradley said his team stepped up across the board that day.
“We stepped on the field and were committed to going after things in a way where ultimately, … only one team could win,” Bradley said.
Toronto’s dominance was total. The shots were 22-7 in favor of the home side. In terms of shots on target, it was even more extreme: 11-2. TFC attempted 120 more passes and crushed the Sounders in duels — a statistic Seattle’s coach, Brian Schmetzer, treasures — winning 56 to the visitors’ 26.
The score was 2-0, with Jozy Altidore netting the first and Vázquez finishing things off late.
“They didn’t know what to do because we were playing so well,” Vazquez said.
Toronto coach Greg Vanney said the group “found a great balance of being aggressive and finding good moments to get pressure on them in good areas on the defending side.”
“We found good moments and good balance in terms of being aggressive in our attacks versus also moving them around and having possession and getting guys into good spots,” he explained. “And so we were able to really kind of control the game and dictate the game. Because good stretches of possession, good job of finishing in our attacks in good ways, then sets up our ability to get in good defensive pressure in good areas of the field and make it complicated for them.”
Bradley was crucial, as he had been to no reward in 2016. He made five interceptions on the night and recovered the ball 13 times — surpassing his already league-leading average of 11 per game in that category. Seattle’s star playmaker, Nicolas Lodeiro, engineered virtually nothing in the middle of the field, instead forced out to the flanks.
“I think when you look back and think back to that day, there was a mentality in everything that we did from the start to, in our minds, right a wrong and make sure that we were the ones lifting a trophy,” Bradley reflected.
Toronto had played this well before. To do so on this kind of stage, though, was a rare accomplishment — and a fitting way to end the greatest season ever recorded by an MLS club.
“It was a very good, very complete performance for sure,” Bradley said. “I think we’ve had a lot of them. I think obviously that one gets talked about because it was on a big night and there was a lot on the line, and obviously that’s part of what makes what went into that game so good.”
“I just thought it was a great all-around performance, because how you attack affects how you defend, and how you defend affects how you attack,” Vanney said. “And I just thought we had a really good balance on that day. For a final where there’s a lot on the line, not a lot of teams find a good balance on final days or in playoffs where things seem to be a little bit more high stakes in our league.
“But we did. We found the right balance.”
The Reds welcome the Sounders to Toronto looking to recreate that perfect night, while recognizing this is a new season and both teams have changed. So far in 2018, both sides were afflicted by injuries and distracted by the Concacaf Champions League, so Wednesday night’s meeting unexpectedly sees the No. 10 team in the East take on No. 12 in the West.
“I’m really happy for this game because it’s always good memories,”Vazquez said. “But it’s a totally different game.”