MLS Cup final tactics

Seattle Sounders – Toronto FC: Clinical Seattle Beat Toronto To Win The MLS Cup (3-1)

Toronto dominated the first half with possession and largely prevented Seattle’s counterattacks. However, despite all of their possession, Toronto failed to create any scoring chances. They went on to dominate the start of the second half as well, but Seattle scored against the run of play. After falling behind, Toronto played a lot more hectic, allowing Seattle to capitalize off numerous turnovers and deciding the match with a second and third goal.  

Tactical analysis and match report by Jonas G.

Many expected an MLS Cup final between Atlanta United and Los Angeles FC, but Toronto and Seattle each overcame these teams to win their respective Conference titles. Despite falling behind early in their game at Los Angeles, Seattle started a comeback to win the match 3-1. Therefore, manager Brian Schmetzer made just one change to his 4-2-3-1 formation – formerly injured Róman Torres started at center-back instead of Xavier Arreaga.  

Toronto also trailed against the favorites Atlanta in their last match, but were very fortunate to turn the game around. Manager Greg Vanney sticked to his 4-3-3 formation, with his only change coming at the center-back position as well. Laurent Ciman had to take place on the bench and Omar Gonzalez started.   

Toronto dominate from the first minute

Despite being the away team, Toronto started the final dominating Seattle with high pressing and long spells of possession. Out of their 4-3-3 shape, Alejandro Pozuelo guided the buildup to the wing by positioning himself between the center-backs. Behind the striker, Toronto tried to create numerous man-orientations, in order to deny any free passing options for the center-back. To achieve this on the right side, Marky Delgado stepped up to mark Cristian Roldán while the other central midfielder, Jonathan Osorio, stayed deep to cover the center. Ball-far winger Nicolas Benezet moved inside to mark Gustav Svensson and Michael Bradley followed Nicolás Lodeiro’s runs. On the wing, Tsubasa Endo and Auro marked their opponents as well.

Toronto guided Seattle to one side and used a lot of man-orientations to force Seattle to play long balls.

Because Toronto had a numerical advantage against Seattle’s strikers, they were able to win most of the second balls. Toronto would thus recovere the ball often in these situations and would then start their own possession spells. Against their opponent’s 4-4-1-1 medium block, A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. they overloaded When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. the left side to create numerical superiorities. Seattle had problems with the distances between the players, mostly the midfielders. Because the spaces were too big, Toronto were able to create numerical superiorities against every single midfielder and progressed the ball into the attacking third of the pitch with ease. 

To create these overloads on the left side, left back Justin Morrow supported the attacks and Pozuelo left his central striker position and moved to the left side as well. With both central midfielders Delgado and Osorio moving into these spaces, too, Toronto had enough players to outnumber Seattle. Bradley and Auro – who moved inside from his right back position – stayed behind their teammates and were able to recover the ball quickly after it was lost. Endoh stayed wide on the right wing to stretch their opponent’s defense and to be a passing option on the right side. Although Toronto dominated the game with combinations through Seattle’s midfield, they were not able to create scoring chances due to the lack of runs into depth. 

Toronto overloaded their left side with multiple players moving into these spaces. However, the attacks lacked depth and they failed to create scoring chances.

As expected before the game, Seattle would sit in their own half, waiting for turnovers to hit Toronto on the counter. But because of their incompact defense, they hardly were able to recover the ball at all. If they did so, they just had one or two players positioned behind Toronto’s midfield, which made a successful counterattack difficult. Chances therefore only occurred from good individual moments by Jordan Morris or prolific striker Raúl Ruidíaz. 

Seattle become more active and open the scoring in the second half

After roughly twenty minutes of play, Seattle started to attack Toronto’s buildup in their own half. Due to the lack of individual quality under pressure from Toronto’s defenders, Seattle were able to recover the ball in the opposition’s half multiple times. This resulted in a series of corner kicks and a few chances, but no big scoring chances resulted from it. 

Because Seattle opened up, Toronto also had more spaces to profit from with fast attacks. They no longer focused on overloading the left side. However, a lot of promising attacks broke down because of poor decision-making by the strikers and central midfielders. With Ruidíaz missing a one-on-one opportunity against goalkeeper Quentin Westberg, Seattle missed the chance to take the lead just before half-time. 

The second half started like the first half went for most of the time – Toronto dominated the game in and out of possession. They no longer attacked Seattle deep in their own half, but stayed in a 4-1-4-1 medium block shape more often. With Delgado and Osorio pressuring Svensson and Roldán, Seattle’s buildup lacked proper connections into zones higher up the pitch. Therefore, the hosts had to keep on playing long balls that led to turnovers. 

In their possession spells, Toronto now looked to start their attacks on one wing to attract their opponents to shift to this side. Afterward, they would play the ball into the center and tried to find either Pozuelo, Delgado or Osorio in the spaces between the lines. From there, the ball was played to the wing again where they attacked Seattle’s defense with dribbles and crosses. After fifty minutes, Toronto’s biggest chance of the game came after a Pozuelo dribble into the box from the right side. 

Heavily against the run of play, Seattle took the lead after 56 minutes. The hosts were able to attack through the left side against a too passive Toronto defense. The ball was switched to offensive Dutch right back Kelvin Leerdam who dribbled past his opponent and was lucky that his shot deflected from a defenders’ leg into the goal. 

Toronto become impatient after the goal

This goal was a big blow for Toronto, as they looked like the better side, especially in the second half. Their reaction to this goal was not good as the attacks were played to hectic and the positional play became worse. Pozuelo was a good example of this: while playing as the striker, he was meant to occupy the space between Seattle’s defensive midfielders, but moved to the left side a lot. After Jozy Altidore was subbed in, he played as the left winger but moved to the center a lot. 

Although roaming through spaces is not exactly a huge mistake, it becomes a problem if the team uses a positional play style where every player has its tasks. The task of the left winger for example is to pin the right back and create space for the central midfielder. Although this is only an example and Pozuelo is not the only player at fault for Toronto’s problems after the goal, it underlines what went wrong for them from an attacking point of view.

Because the attacks were played more hectic and inaccurate, Seattle were able to create more turnovers. One of these turnovers resulted in the second goal, and it came in the 76th minute. Svensson recovered the ball in the opposition’s half, substituted Víctor Rodríguez received the ball in front of Toronto’s box and scored from seventeen meters out into, the bottom right corner. 

Toronto manager Greg Vanney took more risks after the goal, and changed to a 3-5-2 formation. However, Toronto did not remain in this shape for long, because center-back Gonzalez played as a striker for the last ten minutes. The idea at the end of the match was to bring in a lot of crosses to find their target men Altidore and Gonzalez. Therefore, the wings were occupied by Morrow and Richie Laryea.

With one cross after the other flying into Seattle’s box, Brian Schmetzer reacted to Toronto’s adjustment and brought in Jordy Delem as the third center-back. Seattle then played in a 5-3-2 shape to deal with the crosses. Ruidíaz goal after ninety minutes eventually decided the game, as Altidore’s goal in injury time did not influence the game anymore. In the end, Seattle won the MLS Cup with a fine display of knockout football.


As expected, Toronto dominated possession and were able to play through Seattle’s midfield multiple times. Their biggest issue was that they were unable to create big scoring chances. It looked promising at the start of the second half, but Toronto’s quality of play decreased after the first goal. The strategy for the last few minutes with long balls and crosses did not have the effect Greg Vanney would have hoped for. 

Seattle struggled against a very good Toronto press – both the high press and medium block. They were not able to find solutions against the man-orientations and relied a lot on long balls. However, the staggering around the aerial duels was too poor to win second balls and Seattle therefore did not show up in front of Toronto’s goal a lot. 

The counterattacks did not have the quality to threaten Toronto, but Seattle luckily took the lead anyway thanks to a deflected shot. With the second goal coming from outside the box and the third resulting from a defensive error, Seattle was all in all fortunate to win the MLS Cup. 

Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. Click to enlarge.
Check the match plots page for plots of other matches.


Be the first to comment on this article

Leave a Reply

Go to TOP