Toronto FC completed the climb from league laughingstock to league's best on Saturday. In hoisting the MLS Cup title that capped the best season in Major League Soccer history, TFC immediately generated questions about whether this team could go on to become the best dynasty MLS has seen.
TFC won't start thinking about 2018 just yet, not with a championship parade to enjoy and title to celebrate, but it's only natural to wonder if this special collection of talent can take things a step further by becoming the first MLS team to win a CONCACAF Champions League in its current format.
Saturday's final was a bitter ending to Seattle's season, but the Sounders too are built to sustain success. The league's recent announcement of increased funds for teams to use to strengthen their rosters should be a big blessing for a Sounders squad with one of the best general managers in the league in Garth Lagerwey. With Clint Dempsey expected to re-sign, most of their major pieces expected back and the financial strength to revamp their roster, the Sounders should be right back in the title race next season.
The champagne had barely dried at BMO Field before teams began a flurry of trades Sunday ahead of the league's unveiling of players left available for the expansion draft. Some big names made moves, such as Walker Zimmerman and Kei Kamara, while other teams made deals to protect players ahead of the expansion draft — like Sporting Kansas City, which turned heads by trading for recently retired striker Kenwyne Jones.
Sunday's transactions served as a reminder that there really is no time off in MLS circles, and with Los Angeles FC preparing to enter the league, the coming weeks should continue to have plenty of moves, be it via trade, signings, expansion team announcements or free agent signings.
Here is a look back at the action around the league during MLS Cup weekend:
TFC REMOVES ALL DOUBT ABOUT BEST-EVER STATUS
How do you compare teams from different eras? Is it as simple as tallying trophies and point totals? If that's your approach, then TFC removed all doubt in 2017 by setting a points record on the way to winning three major trophies, becoming the first MLS team to do so.
In terms of evaluating talent, you can argue that it's too subjective to try and compare players from current teams and past powerhouses, but the reality is that present-day MLS teams have exponentially more resources to build rosters and sign top talent than teams 20, 10 or even five years ago. When you give those resources to a team with a sharp general manager and very good coach, you can create a perfect storm of success, which is what we saw in Toronto this year.
Were there some deep teams in the past that boasted impressive talent that could still do well today? Sure, the D.C. United teams of the late '90s and the LA Galaxy squad from earlier this decade — which each won three titles in four years — would hold their own in present-day MLS, but would they have beaten this TFC team, or even the Sounders? The fact is both teams are — from top to bottom — deeper and more balanced than those past dynasties.
You can also make the argument that there are more teams capable of competing for titles in present-day MLS. Whereas some previous eras saw only one or two teams really pushing the envelope in terms of spending big to build their rosters, the league today features a good half-dozen teams that could be considered big spenders, not to mention those clubs that can be called smart spenders, like the Columbus Crew. That leads to much stiffer competition at the top than past dynasty teams had to deal with.
Skeptics of TFC's legacy will take a wait-and-see approach, and note that you need more than one cup to join the MLS dynasty club. Yes, this may be true, but that doesn't change the fact that the 2017 Toronto FC is the strongest team MLS has ever seen.
SOUNDERS DOWN, BUT RESOURCES ARE THERE TO REBOUND
The Sounders had a bad night Saturday, from coach Brian Schmetzer to playmakers Nicolas Lodeiro and Victor Rodriguez, but their 2-0 MLS Cup final loss shouldn't automatically doom them to falling out of the conversation of 2018 title contenders.
Joevin Jones is leaving, heading for Germany, but beyond that the Sounders have a good chance of keeping their nucleus together as they prepare to hit the international market for another designated player. That, coupled with the ability to spend $2.8 million more in targeted allocation money, should allow the Sounders to bolster their squad in areas such as forward, left back and central defense.
With Dempsey set to sign a new deal to keep him in Seattle in 2018, the biggest question mark on the current Sounders squad centers around the status of captain Osvaldo Alonso, who missed the MLS Cup final due to injury, and was then left unprotected in Tuesday's MLS expansion draft. That move clearly bothered Alonso, who delivered an ominous tweet that has Sounders fans not only nervous that LAFC may select him, but that he may feel offended enough to leave even if he isn't taken.
Alonso is very much still a difference-maker in midfield and it's clear the Sounders could have used his presence Saturday, in a match that saw TFC dominate in midfield. If Bob Bradley chooses to select Alonso in the expansion draft, LAFC could squeeze the Sounders for a pretty sizable ransom, a move that has occurred before in expansion draft lore. The Houston Dynamo paid the price for a similar gamble with Brian Ching in 2011, and FC Dallas watched Toronto FC snatch up then-striker Jason Kreis in the 2006 expansion draft. In both cases the expansion teams were able to trade those players back to their original clubs and scoop up allocation money.
Such a move might not be as appealing for LAFC given the fact the team is only allowed to select five players, half the number chosen in the 2006 and 2011 drafts. Ultimately, LAFC will have to weigh the value in grabbing Alonso versus taking five players who are worth more than the allocation money Seattle would be willing to pay for Alonso. Then again, Bradley could decide Alonso is worth keeping and trying to build his midfield with. Seattle is banking on the fact that paying a 32-year-old midfielder with a recent history of leg injuries more than $1 million a season is enough to scare off LAFC from considering him.
If the Sounders can navigate the Alonso situation without losing him, then the focus can turn to bolstering the roster in the aforementioned areas. They have the financial capability of adding a couple of big-ticket acquisitions, which would put the Sounders right back in the title conversation next season.
SIZING UP THE FLURRY OF TRADES
Here is a quick look back at the key trades consummated Sunday, and who made out:
LAFC acquires Walker Zimmerman. The biggest trade of the weekend saw LAFC land a top MLS central defender in Zimmerman, which wound up yielding FC Dallas $500,000 in allocation money and the top spot in the league's new MLS allocation order, which means FCD now has first crack at any U.S. national team players returning from Europe. It's a steep price to pay, but Zimmerman is well worth it, and the recent influx of targeted allocation money (a total of up to $4 million can be used in 2018) means allocation money isn't as scarce as it used to be.
Who does Dallas have in mind to bring in via the allocation order route? It's traditionally a rewarding spot to be in possession of, so even if Oscar Pareja doesn't already have someone in mind to select with that top allocation spot, his team knows there will be interest in the slot at some point in 2018. The Zimmerman trade is going to look like a risky one until FCD finds a viable replacement in central defense to play alongside Matt Hedges.
Vancouver Whitecaps acquire Kei Kamara. The Whitecaps landed a proven MLS goal-scorer and didn't even have to give up anything in 2018 to do it, sending 2019 and 2020 first-round picks to New England. The cost was relatively low for Vancouver, but there is risk involved in adding an enigmatic player to a young team. Kamara has shown he can be a dominant goal-scorer, but he has also shown himself to be a divisive presence in the locker room at times. If Carl Robinson can get Kamara to adapt well in Vancouver, the trade will wind up being a steal.
Why did the Revs do it? They only picked up his million-dollar option in 2018 in order to deal him and they found a suitor who sent along some future draft picks that could wind up having some good value if the Whitecaps take a turn for the worse in 2018. It may not seem like much to get for Kamara given how well he played down the stretch in 2017, but the reality is the Revs were ready to be done with him and will count themselves fortunate to recoup something from a player who simply didn't pan out after New England made a big slash acquiring him in 2016.
D.C. United acquires Darren Mattocks. The Timbers unloaded Mattocks for the cost of a 2018 international roster spot in a move that could work out well for a D.C. attack that needed a fresh speed option after the team parted ways with Deshorn Brown. It's a more promising pickup for United than defender Frederic Brillant, who joined D.C. from New York City FC.
Sporting KC acquires Kenwyne Jones. This one left plenty of people scratching their head considering Jones recently started his plans to retire, but those unfamiliar with the fine print in MLS expansion draft rules may have missed the part where teams are obligated to leave a certain number of international players unprotected. Enter Jones, who has now filled one of those spots, allowing Sporting KC to keep one more international player it likes off the expansion draft list.