A first-time Major League Soccer champion will be decided on Saturday when Toronto FC host Seattle Sounders for the MLS Cup. Ten clubs have been crowned champions under the current MLS format, with Los Angeles Galaxy and DC United the most successful teams in the tournament’s history.
The opportunity to join them as champions has got the coaches of Saturday’s two teams dreaming of glory and the uptake from fans for the final has been incredible: the match sold out in three minutes.
"It's an exciting time for the city," Toronto coach Greg Vanney told reporters on a conference call on Monday. "It's been a long time since we've hosted a final in any sport. It's become a big deal over the course of this run. Now we’re hosting, it's snowballing. With the excitement of the last series I think it's just built momentum for this championship game."
Toronto scored two extra-time goals against rivals Montreal Impact for a wild 5-2 home win in the second leg of the Eastern Conference final to seal a 7-5 aggregate victory.
Seattle, who had been written off by many pundits earlier this year, beat the Colorado Rapids 3-1 on aggregate in the Western Conference finals to secure their first MLS Cup final berth after seven years of post-season futility.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer, whose team will be the underdog for Saturday's final, was energised by Toronto's stirring victory and eager for the crowning chapter of the season.
"It was a really exciting playoff series against Montreal. That was a tremendous game there in Toronto," said Schmetzer. "I'm looking forward to going over there and providing another good, entertaining soccer match."
Toronto won an MLS playoff game for the first time this season, finally shedding a losers' image after building a strong supporting cast around high-priced talent in Italian Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley.
The Sounders turned their season around after signing midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro in the middle of the campaign as the club's newest Designated Player.
The 27-year-old midfielder came to Seattle from Argentine powerhouse Boca Juniors, where the Uruguayan international spent the two previous seasons.
"He came as advertised," said Schmetzer. "He was almost better than what you saw on TV with Boca. From the minute he came, he's been tremendous."
While Toronto (14 wins, 11 draws, 9 losses) easily qualified for the Eastern Conference playoffs, Seattle (14-6-14) scraped their way in.
"We were in a place where every game was a must-win game to reach the playoffs. We had played 12 or 14 must-win games," Schmetzer said. "Our team is seasoned. We've come through some adversity at times and figured out ways how to win games. I think it has kind of helped us."