The nature of Saturday’s MLS Cup Final, a rematch of Seattle and Toronto from last year’s final, offers viewers several things to watch for (3 p.m., ESPN). How much it departs from last year, when the Sounders won in a penalty shootout, hinges on the play of Seattle midfielder Cristian Roldan and Toronto midfielder Michael Bradley, and an X-factor not present a year ago.
Roldan is the chief connection between Seattle’s excellent defense and talented offense. Last year, though, he was pretty much pinned back into his own half, in part to try to combat Toronto’s high-powered attack. Not surprisingly, the Sounders offense didn’t create much. Seattle generated just two long-range, speculative shots, neither on target. It only got to the shootout thanks to several excellent saves from goalkeeper Stefan Frei. If Roldan is stationed in his own half of the field on Saturday afternoon, thus not making forward runs and completing passes, then Seattle’s offense might look just as anemic as last year.
Bradley’s role, meanwhile, is to play defensively and kick-start the offense with his passing from the center of the field. When things are going well for Toronto, he is often making forward passes to start Toronto attacks. If he’s mostly passing the ball sideways — or worse, stuck making defensive clearances — then Toronto may have to settle for other players making long, hopeful passes over the top of the defense. This would mean that the team’s offense would be entirely up to individual moments of wizardry from forwards Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, and playmaker Victor Vasquez. That could still work, given that the three are the best attacking trio in the league.
The X-factor is Seattle forward Clint Dempsey, who missed last year’s game because of a heart condition. “Deuce” has scored three times in the playoffs and has something to prove after missing last year’s triumph. He might be the only way Seattle can avoid another zero-shots-on-target performance. Watch to see whether Dempsey is getting time on the ball in Toronto’s end. If he is, he will either be able to go it alone, or create room for playmaker Nicolás Lodeiro and center-forward Will Bruin to operate.
That said, Seattle wins with defense, as it hasn’t allowed a goal this post-season. As it proved last year, its main goal may be to keep Toronto off the scoreboard. If the Toronto attackers are swarmed with defenders, while Seattle isn’t creating much, you’ll know that Seattle is aiming for an 0-0 or a 1-0 finish again. On the road, in the cold, with Toronto’s firepower, that decision might make sense.
But from a neutral fan’s standpoint, you have to hope that each offense gets a chance to shine this year.
• U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, has decided not to run for re-election next year, probably a good decision given that angry fans might have stormed the federation’s headquarters if he had been re-elected. He will be remembered for a string of bad decisions on who should coach the men’s national team, and for refusing equal pay for the all-conquering women’s national team.
• Could the next American goalkeeping star be somone with a very familiar — and German — name? This week Jonathan Klinsmann, son of former USA coach and Germany star Jurgen, made his professional debut for the Bundesliga’s Hertha Berlin, saving a penalty in a 1-1 tie in the Europa League. Klinsmann is yet another player to add to the roster of young American standouts in the Bundesliga, and he could be the USA’s netminder of the future.
• Things have gotten so bad for FIFA that even the scandal-ridden International Olympic Committee is running rings around it. Contained in the IOC’s far-reaching Russian ban this week was a ban for Vitaly Mutko, who will still remain in his current post as the head of the 2018 World Cup, according to FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Serie A: Inter Milan at Juventus, 1:45 p.m. Saturday, beIN. For the first time in nearly two years, Inter is at the top of the Italian standings, one point ahead of Napoli and two ahead of Juventus. For its part, the home side defeated Napoli last week on the road. With a home victory against Inter, Juventus would head back to the top of the table.
Premier League: Everton at Liverpool, 8:15 a.m. Sunday, NBCSN. Everton finally fired coach Ronald Koeman and has righted the ship. Two consecutive victories actually have the Toffees back into the top half of the standings. Now Everton is closer to a European spot than relegation. A victory against next-door neighbors Liverpool would lift spirits even further.
Premier League: Manchester City at Manchester United, 10:30 a.m. Sunday, NBCSN. It’s 14 victories in 15 games to start the season for Manchester City and an eight-point lead over the Blues’ hated crosstown rivals. Forget the Premier League title; this might be the rest of the league’s best chance to keep City from going undefeated this season.
Liga MX: Tigres at Monterrey, 6 p.m. Sunday, Univision. Monterrey has the advantage in this cross-town Liga MX final, after picking up a 1-1 draw in the first leg on Thursday at Tigres. The away goal means Monterrey — the regular-season winner — would win the title with an 0-0 draw . Los Rayados have allowed just four goals at home all fall.