By Scott Adamson
Toronto FC capped off the greatest season in Major League Soccer history on Saturday with a 2-0 victory over Seattle Sounders FC in the MLS Cup.
The clash – a rematch of last year’s final won by the Sounders – served as the 2017 curtain call for North American professional club soccer.
Toronto (20-5-9) controlled the match from start to finish, dominating possession and keeping Seattle back peddling from wire-to-wire before 30,584 fans at BMO Field in Toronto.
Goalkeeper Stefan Frei was the only reason 2016’s champions stayed close as he made save after save before Most Valuable Player Jozy Altidore split a pair of defenders and punched in the game-winner in the 67th minute. Victor Vazquez closed the door in stoppage time with a rebound goal that made it 2-0, delivering Toronto the first treble in 22 seasons of MLS soccer.
Aside from claiming the Supporters’ Shield while racking up the most regular season points (69) an MLS team has ever recorded, Greg Vanney’s squad also won the Canadian Championship.
Alexander Bono got the clean sheet for the victors, making two saves. Toronto outshot Seattle, 22-7, and had 11 corner kicks to just three for the visitors.
Frei did all he could for the Sounders (14-9-11), making nine stops.
Toronto’s goals were the only ones scored against Seattle during the 2017 postseason.
STATE OF THE LEAGUE
The 2017 MLS Cup proved to be a fine season finale for the circuit that began play in 1996.
After suffering from severe growing pains (it lost an estimated $350 million over its first eight seasons and also underwent contraction) the top tier of soccer in the United States and Canada has since demonstrated stability and sustained growth. In addition, its commitment to soccer-specific stadiums across the league suggests a league that will be part of American sport’s long game.
Currently with 23 franchises and targeting 28 teams in the coming years, MLS might still not be mentioned alongside the NFL, Major League baseball, NBA and NHL, but it has unquestionably carved out a sizable niche.
The 2017 regular season saw a league average of 22,112 fans per game (up nearly 2 percent from 2016), and expansion club Atlanta United FC was far and away the most successful at the box office with an incredible 71,874 fans-per-game average.
Seattle drew 44,370 per match while DC United saw 41,418 supporters show up for their home contests.
Next Thursday the MLS board of governors will discuss expansion, and the cities under consideration are Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento.
Those four were culled from 12 cities that submitted bids back in January and two will be selected to begin play in 2020 – probably.
Los Angeles FC will start next season and a Miami entry associated with David Beckham was expected to be the 24th active MLS franchise.
However, nothing has yet been finalized with Beckham’s ownership group, meaning one of the two expansion hopefuls could “cut in line.”
The board on Friday approved an increase in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) available to each club.
While each team will receive an allotment of $1.2 million each year through 2019, they may also spend an additional $2.8 million (on a discretionary basis) in 2018 and 2019.
The TAM initiative began in 2015 with the idea of giving franchises “increased resources to add, or retain, players that will make an immediate impact on the field.”
The TAM is geared toward roster spots beyond the three Designated Players on each team. According to MLS Communications, The Designated Player Rule “allows clubs to acquire up to three players whose total compensation and acquisition costs exceed the maximum budget charge, with the club bearing financial responsibility for the amount of compensation above each player’s budget charge.”