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Thoughts on the MLS Cup 2016

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America’s other pro football league to crown a champion

There’s no question which sport is king here in America.

We’ve spent the past three months tuning in every Saturday and Sunday and Monday and even Thursday to watch the NFL. We’re just a month or so from season’s end, when the lucky teams still standing will begin their march toward a championship.

But there’s more to professional football than the NFL.

There is, of course, the CFL. My love for the Canadian Football League is no secret in these pages. Not long ago, I watched as the 104th battle for the Grey Cup took place at BMO Field in Toronto, with the underdog Ottawa REDBLACKS taking down the heavily-favored Calgary Stampeders 39-33 in only the third overtime championship game in league history.

But we’re here to talk about the other football.

That’s right – it’s MLS Cup time.

The championship of Major League Soccer is set to be decided on Dec. 10. Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders FC will face off – at that same BMO Field, coincidentally enough – for the right to call themselves MLS champions.

Here’s the thing: I know nothing about soccer in general or MLS in particular. Please know that I’m not one of these thick-headed, knuckle-dragging sports “fans” who breathes through his mouth and refuses to acknowledge any athletic endeavor that is deemed not “tough” or “American” enough.

(This is the spot where I trot out my usual bit about my own scholastic soccer experience where I go all Thomas Hobbes and call my career “Poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Rest assured that my time on the pitch was all of those things.)

I freely admit that with the millions upon millions of soccer fans all over the world making it the one game that can truly be considered global, I am most definitely the problem. I just don’t connect with the game on a meaningful level, but I understand that there is certainly a connection to be made. It’s not the game’s fault. It’s my fault.

I don’t get it, but I get that I don’t get it. Get it?

However, since I get a kick out of making underinformed predictions about sporting events I don’t really know much about, well…here we are.

Neither of these teams had a particularly spectacular regular season – Toronto finished in third place in the Eastern Conference with a 14-9-11 record; Seattle landed in fourth in the Western Conference with a 14-14-6 mark. Seattle had the tougher road to get here; after taking down fifth-seeded Sporting Kansas City in the knockout round, they had to defeat the top (FC Dallas) and second (Colorado Rapids) seeds to advance to the Cup. Meanwhile, Eastern Conference attrition led to Toronto making the finals by beating the sixth (Philadelphia Union), second (New York City FC) and fifth (Montreal Impact) seeds, in that order.

We’re guaranteed a first-time champion; neither of these teams has ever won the MLS Cup. In fact, it’s the first Cup to be contested between expansion squads – Toronto began play in 2007, while Seattle played their first match in 2009.

So who will win? I haven’t the foggiest. Judging by the numbers I’ve seen, Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco is the most potent offensive threat on either team, but I have a hunch that there’s a whole lot more here than just raw totals of goals and assists. And Toronto’s goal differential of +12 was third best in the entire league. Plus, they’re playing on their home field.

While it seems that Seattle might have the goaltending edge thanks to the play of Stefan Frei, the reality is that they barely managed to outscore their opponents on the season – no surprise considering their exceedingly .500 record. It’s a great thing for Seattle supporters, who have taken to MLS fandom like few others, but ultimately, it doesn’t look good.

Utterly uninformed prediction:

Toronto FC 2 – Seattle Sounders FC 1

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