In team sports, no matter how great you are in the regular season, winning in the playoffs is a very different thing.
Just ask the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning or the MLS' LAFC. Both clubs just had history-making regular seasons only to fall short of proving their dominance in the playoffs. Succeeding here takes something extra. Is it experience? Guts? Togetherness? Trust?
Whatever it actually is, clearly both Toronto FC (TFC) and Seattle Sounders have it because for the third time in four years, these two teams are playing each other in the MLS Cup.
The rubber match
In sports slang, a rubber match is the deciding contest in a series between two opponents.
Back in the 2016 MLS Cup, a stiff battle between Toronto and Seattle ended up 0–0 but then Seattle triumphed 5–4 in a penalty shootout to win their first-ever championship.
The next year though, Toronto would not be denied. They played an irresistible match, winning 2–0. And so TFC also had their first-ever league trophy.
And now, after a 2018 that saw each team take a step back, they're back in the finals. The two most successful clubs of the last four years compete one more time. A rubber match!
But some things have changed. Both the 2016 and 2017 MLS Cups were played in Toronto at BMO Field. This time, the match will be held in Seattle at CenturyLink Field. Seattle expects nearly 70,000 fans firmly on their side. That's a big advantage.
In addition, the Sounders have a new striker, Raul Ruidiaz, who has been a standout this season and will give TFC's defense big headaches. Seattle's team is quick, experienced, and talented. And they still have goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who three years ago did this to Toronto...
How does Toronto match up against that?
TFC is missing some key players from its 2017 cup-winning group, especially Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez. And their star striker, Jozy Altidore, has been injured all playoffs. So advantage Seattle, right? Maybe. And yet...
Led by players like captain Michael Bradley, Jonathon Osorio, and MLS Newcomer of the Year Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto is unbeaten in its last 13 matches. It beat top-ranked NYCFC and 2018 champs Atlanta United on the road to reach the final. What's one more match as an underdog?
This best two-out-of-three final should be a great showdown!
The MLS Cup happens on Sunday, November 10 at 3pm EST/noon PST.