TORONTO -- When the Seattle Sounders landed in Ontario last December, they were running on fumes. Having expended so much energy just to reach the 2016 MLS Cup final, they were bruised and exhausted ahead of the title game itself.
The squad that arrived at Pearson International on Wednesday evening ahead of this weekend's rematch with Toronto FC is healthier, better rested and in higher spirits, according to goalkeeper Stefan Frei: "We're just now starting to hit our stride."
"Our journey this year to the finals has been a bit more calculated, a bit more of a steady growth throughout the year, not a crazy roller coaster like last year," Frei said, referencing how the 2016 team dug out of a 10-point deficit in late July to qualify for the postseason.
"When we finally were able to string some results together, we needed to maximize that streak just to make it to the playoffs. You try to draw [hot streaks] out as long as possible, but they can grow stale a little bit. ... We were starting to struggle a little bit toward the end. Thankfully, we were able do it with the last game."
Seattle edged Toronto on penalty kicks in last year's championship game despite not managing a single shot on target over 120 minutes of game action.
"This year, we're just now starting to hit our stride," Frei said. "Our last two games, three games, we've been very clinical offensively and defensively. I think that bodes well. Our journey to this point has been a bit more professional, a bit more calculated and a bit more of a steady growth, which I think you prefer as an athlete. It helps the nerves, for sure."
The Sounders routed Houston 5-0 on aggregate in the Western Conference finals in order to set up the rematch with TFC.