Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso won’t play in Saturday’s MLS Cup final after failing a physical Thursday.
TORONTO — Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso won’t play in Saturday’s MLS Cup final after failing a physical Thursday that he needed to pass to have any hope of getting on the field.
Alonso played in last year’s final only after taking painkiller injections to deal with damaged ligaments in his knee. He’d suffered through a variety of similar knee issues this season and hasn’t played since late September after suffering a quad injury.
“What’s meant to be is meant to be,’’ Alonso said, standing in street clothes as the Sounders worked out at Toronto FC’s indoor training facility in the northern part of the city.
There had never been a question of Alonso starting the game, given he hasn’t played in 2½ months. But Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer had been hopeful of getting Alonso some playing time off the bench if circumstances allowed for it.
“He’s very disappointed,’’ Schmetzer said. “He wants to do whatever he can to help the team. He’s the captain of the team. So it’s a bit of a blow. But we’re going to deal with it.’’
It seems Toronto FC brass isn’t done trying to play mind games with the Sounders.
First, it was TFC coach Greg Vanney telling reporters earlier in the week he wasn’t sure the defending champion Sounders were ready for the “intensity” of an MLS Cup given the Eastern Conference had better teams than the Western side this season.
Then, on Wednesday, Reds general manager Tim Bezbatchenko went on Sportsnet radio in Toronto and took a subtle jab at the Sounders for the defensive style used to win last year’s battle. While acknowledging the style worked for the Sounders to win a title, Bezbatchenko quickly added he hopes they come out more aggressively this time.
“I sure hope so,’’ he said. “I hope they come out and that they want to play. Play soccer and give the fans what they want to see, which is an entertaining match. I don’t fault them for doing what they needed to do to win last year, I suppose. But at the same time, they have a really talented team.’’
Bezbatchenko’s own side would no doubt love to bait the Sounders into a wide-open affair the fearsome TFC attack can exploit. So far these playoffs, teams have had success against Toronto by playing a more cautious style and pouncing on mistakes.
Just like last year, the weather heading in to Saturday’s match is fast becoming a topic of conversation. The forecast calls for temperatures below freezing with icy winds and — unlike last year — scattered snow flurries.
The potential for about an inch of blowing snow has the league prepared to use fluorescent orange balls in the game so players can better see them. The league will have two dozen on site and a decision on whether to use them will be made by head referee Alan Kelly an hour before kickoff.
At the opening MLS Cup news conference, Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer drew the biggest laugh of the day when asked about the weather.
“Clint (Dempsey) can score with orange balls or regular balls. I mean, it doesn’t matter,’’ Schmetzer said.
Sounders keeper Stefan Frei earlier in the week suggested snow or rain could make the game feel colder than during last year’s single-digit temperatures. But he shrugged off questions about weather concerns Thursday, saying: “It’s the same for both teams.’’
Altidore will play
Toronto striker Jozy Altidore’s sore ankle has been a hot topic heading into the match. He scored the series-clincher against Columbus in the Eastern Conference final after twice hobbling off the field to get treatment.
The goal drew comparisons in Toronto to Bobby Baun, the former Maple Leafs defenseman who scored the overtime winner in Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Final while playing on a broken foot. When asked about the ankle at his team’s news conference, an annoyed looking Altidore gave clipped responses.
On whether he’d play: “Yeah, I’ll play.’’
Then, on whether the ankle had healed to the degree he’d hoped: “It doesn’t matter.’’
Altidore’s most expansive answer came when asked whether he could draw inspiration for his own career from his girlfriend, Sloane Stephens, winning the U.S. Open tennis championship after a long injury layoff that included foot surgery.
“It’s a bit different, different sports,’’ he said. “How she was able to come back and recover and to step into a big tournament like the U.S. Open and really go after it, that says a lot about her character. I’m proud of her.’’