The regular-season rematch of the previous season’s championship game is always a high-drama affair. Pundits speculate about what might have been, and how big a chip the losers have on their shoulders. Unfortunately for those who favor easy narratives, Saturday’s MLS Cup match between the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC at CenturyLink Field (noon, ESPN) will lack some of the anticipated intrigue.
Reds coach Greg Vanney, in a pragmatic response to a schedule glut that has four matches in 10 days, left home some of his star players.
Sebastian Giovinco, who scored 17 goals and recorded 15 assists in a 2016 campaign that made him an MVP candidate, wasn’t on the team flight that touched down in Seattle Friday. Nor was Victor Vazquez, who leads the league with six assists.
It wasn’t just the offense that was depleted. Center back Steven Beitashour and former Sounder Eriq Zavaleta will watch the game on television in Canada.
Vanney cited the need for fresh legs when he addressed Canadian media Friday.
“There’s no way to put your so-called best out for 34 games – especially in this league with the proximity of games and the travel that’s there,” Vanney said. “We also want to put guys out that are super-motivated. During these types of games that fall on short rest and long travel, you want guys who are really hungry out there.
“We’re in the middle of two important Eastern Conference games. We also have a group that is motivated to show something and play against the team we lost to in the championship.”
The news may come as a relief to Seattle (2-2-4, 10 points), which is still trying to string together a coherent 90 minutes against tough opposition.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer tried not to worry about guessing at a Toronto starting lineup.
“You prepare saying, ‘This is what we think, these could be some options, this is the next layer after that,’” Schmetzer said Friday. “As always, if we prepare our team and make our teams change to us and we can dictate how we want to play, some of that stuff solves itself.”
The Sounders are as close as they have been to having a first-choice starting 11.
Brad Evans, long out due to a lingering calf injury, fully participated in training Friday, along with Chad Marshall, who missed two games with pain in his lower back. Jordan Morris, who has been nagged by an ankle injury for most of the season, is also likely to play.
A superior lineup still needs to be wary against a team seeking retribution for becoming the first club to lose MLS Cup to an opponent that didn’t register a shot on goal during the match.
“We’ve talked about other teams that have been motivated to play us as the reigning champs,” Schmetzer said. “We talked in preseason. We knew it was coming, but we didn’t really know until that first game against Houston. (Toronto) might be doubly motivated.”
Motivated but less talented, Toronto’s stripped-down lineup puts a damper on the meeting between west and east champions sufficient remove much of the grudge factor.