TORONTO — The psychological warfare in advance of the MLS Cup final has begun with Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney suggesting that Seattle's road to the championship game wasn't as tough as his club's slog through the East.
While he conceded Seattle was the class of the Western Conference, Vanney said the West playoff games he had watched "weren't nearly as intense or as high-speed or as hotly contested as the Eastern Conference was. And I think that's how the whole season was, to be honest."
"It will be interesting, because I really don't think they've faced the type of intensity that we've had to face and put into our games . . . And that will be interesting when you haven't had a super-intense game to come into a game that is ultra-intense," he added.
Seattle beat Toronto in a penalty shootout in last year's final at BMO Field after the game finished 0-0 after extra time. The Dec. 9 rematch here marks the first championship game repeat since 2011-12 when the Los Angeles Galaxy beat the Houston Dynamo back-to-back.
The Sounders (3-0-1 in the playoffs) blanked the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0 and then the Houston Dynamo 5-0 on aggregate in their two-game series. Vanney noted the Dynamo had players sent of in both games (Jalil Anibaba in the 28th minute of Game 1 and Tomas Martinez in the 66th minute of Game 2).
Toronto (2-1-1 in the playoffs) dispatched the New York Red Bulls on the away goals rule with the series tried 2-2 on aggregate before defeating Columbus Crew SC 1-0 on aggregate.
Seattle (14-9-11) finished second in the Western Conference this season, behind Portland on goal difference, and 16 points below Toronto (20-5-9).
The top five teams in the Eastern Conference had more regular-season points than the leader in the West. Seattle was 2-5-4 against Eastern opposition this season, including a 1-0 loss at home to Toronto. TFC was 7-1-3 against the West.
Seattle enters the final having blanked its opposition for the last six games. The Seattle goal has not been breached in 542 minutes, with the last goal given up by the Sounders coming Oct. 1 in a 2-0 defeat in Philadelphia.
"They have a good defending team," said Vanney. "I'm not going to take that away. Stefan Frei's had a great season and he's a very good goalkeeper. They've got good defenders. So they deserve that,
"Having said that, I do think teams have been fairly impotent against them in terms of really creating problems and hurting teams. And when you play two games a man up, then obviously the opposition's not going to create a ton of chances.
"But I also thought just in the nature of the way their games went, their games never opened up and teams never really pushed against them to create some havoc or problems for them. And to their credit, they managed what they had to manage."
Seattle has also not allowed a goal in six straight playoff games, dating back to the second leg of the 2016 Western Conference final against the Colorado Rapids — and including last year's MLS Cup final. The 647 consecutive minutes without allowing a goal is the longest in MLS playoff history.
The last post-season goal conceded by Seattle was Kevin Doyle's strike Nov. 23, 2016. And that goal deflected in off defender Chad Marshall.
Both teams have been on a roll in the business end of the 2017 schedule.
The Sounders have not lost since Oct. 1 (5-0-1) and have been beaten just twice since June 28 (12-2-6).
Toronto, meanwhile, is 12-3-5 since losing at FC Dallas on July 1. Vanney's team has not given up a goal in 216 minutes in these playoffs, with the last goal coming off a Bradley Wright-Phillips deflection in the Red Bulls' 1-0 win in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final.
Toronto won 1-0 on May 6 in Seattle on a Jozy Altidore penalty kick. With eight games in May and the long trip to Seattle sandwiched between midweek games in Toronto and Columbus, Vanney left Sebastian Giovinco, Victor Vazquez, Eriq Zavaleta and Steven Beitashour at home.
Toronto's starting 11 that day featured just five current starters.
Altidore was not at practice Saturday, continuing with his rehab from a rolled ankle suffered in Wednesday's win over Columbus.
"We're confident that he'll be ready" Vanney said.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press