THEIR BEST VS. THEIR BEST.
TORONTO — Saturday’s MLS Cup final will feature arguably Toronto FC’s two finest goalkeepers.
Stefan Frei, who played 82 games for Toronto from 2009 to ’13, led Major League Soccer with 13 shutouts for Seattle this season. Alex Bono, who made the Toronto starting job his own this year, tied for second with a club-record 10.
Given their talents, and the rock-solid defences in front of them, the question is whether this year’s championship game rematch will offer what last year’s didn’t — goals.
Opposing teams found them hard to come by this year. Toronto ranked second — behind Sporting Kansas City — in goals conceded during the regular season with 37 (1.09 a game). The Sounders were third at 39 (1.15).
Still, Toronto coach Greg Vanney does not think there will be a repeat of last year’s game at BMO Field when Seattle won in a penalty shootout after the contest ended knotted at 0-0 after extra time.
“I do think there’s goals in this game,” Vanney said. “I think both teams want to win this game in regulation. They don’t want to see that (scoreless game).
“Both teams have been quite stingy defensively but I do think both teams have potent attacks and will looks for way to try and win the game.”
Seattle did not manage a shot on goal in the 120 minutes of last’s year final. Toronto outshot the Sounders 19-3 (7-0 in shots on target).
“I imagine one of the things they, again, want to rectify if you will is to come and get shots and create chances,” Vanney said. “It’s not something that happened in the way they would like last year.”
Vanney anticipates a more attacking Seattle, which could lead to “some space and some chances being created on both sides.”
Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer has heard it all before.
“Certainly for the soccer pundits, for the sportscasters, for some of the people that classified our win last year as no shots on goal, sure, I’d like to silence some of those critics,” he said.
Schmetzer pointed to scoreless ties between Seattle and Vancouver and Toronto and Columbus, part of earlier two-game series in this year’s playoffs.
“There were some people in the media that said those were boring games and we need to change the system and all that sort of stuff. I can say from my perspective that we never not try and go out and score.
“We don’t bunker in for 90 minutes because we understand that’s the way you don’t win soccer games. You must come out and play attacking soccer. It’s just sometimes that games manifest themselves like that. It’s certainly not by design from any of the coaches that I speak to.
“So we certainly would like to have some goals and I would certainly say that I’d like to have them come from Clint (Dempsey) or Jordan (Morris) or Nico (Lodeiro).”
They will have to beat Bono, a 23-year-old native of Baldwinsville, N.Y., who follows the Buffalo Bills, once dreamed of being a hockey goalie and hopes to make a living in the media after soccer. A talented shot-stopper, Bono also serves as an athletic sweeper as needed.
The Swiss-born Frei cemented his spot in MLS Cup lore last year with a world-class save on Jozy Altidore. Frei launched himself towards the top corner of his goal, somehow clawing away Altidore’s looping header with his left hand.
Scoring on Seattle has been nigh impossible of late. The Sounders goal has not been breached in more than two months with Seattle blanking Vancouver and Houston in its four playoff games to date.
Including those four playoff games, the Sounders have not allowed a goal in six straight matches, a 542-minute stretch that dates back to a 2-0 loss in Philadelphia on Oct. 1.
Frei, who did not play in Game 1 of this year’s Western Conference final against Houston because of a hamstring strain, has posted five straight playoff shutouts.
The Sounders have not lost since Oct. 1 (5-0-1) and have been beaten just twice since June 28 (122-6).
Alex Bono and Stefan Frei, probably the two best goalkeepers in Toronto FC history, will face each other in Saturday’s MLS Championship game.