Joevin Jones is Seattle's danger man, and TFC knows it
TORONTO - In the 2016 MLS Cup final between Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders, it was Jordan Morris who manned the left flank for the latter. He was a stay-at-home version of Christian Pulisic; an adored American boy who shouldered rampant hype with poise and plundered the 2016 MLS Rookie of the Year prize.
Morris may not have buckled under that pressure, but in 2017 he succumbed to hamstring issues and missed a significant chunk of the campaign. He will be available for Saturday's rematch at BMO Field, but due to the blistering form of the man who used to play behind him in the lineup, he'll probably make do with a place on the bench.
Joevin Jones has been a revelation since moving from left-back to the wing - a similar attacking role to the one he performs for Trinidad and Tobago - and Toronto players are aware of how prominent he is in Seattle's plans.
"The left side is very, very strong. They've had a lot of success going down the left side. We've seen their games, we've seen how they play," TFC's Marky Delgado told theScore.
Recognition of Jones' impact is also highlighted by Seattle manager Brian Schmetzer's attacking focus. The Sounders move down Jones' flank on 42 percent of their advances, while the other side of the attacking midfield trio tends to feature a player who likes to drift inside, such as Nicolas Lodeiro or Victor Rodriguez. In some ways, Seattle is lopsided.
51 – Joevin Jones finished the regular season with 11 assists and 51 completed dribbles, both the most by any defender. Inventive. #OptaMLSXI pic.twitter.com/46VspwLozv— OptaJack (@OptaJack) December 6, 2017
When a player has a style as adventurous as Jones', and operates in a position that requires jinks and feints to bamboozle opponents, losing the ball is a common by-product. However, Jones' stats indicate he seldom runs down dead ends. He ranks 14th among teammates for the number of times he's been dispossessed per 90 minutes, and is 17th for unsuccessful touches.
With those dashes proving so hard to stop, Toronto right wing-back Steven Beitashour wouldn't be surprised if he's pinned back for long periods of the final.
"I think it's going to go back and forth, for sure. I think we'll have spells in possession, they'll have spells in possession," Beitashour shared with theScore. "In both cases, they'll be pushed back or we'll be pushed back. That's the beauty of our team, we can adapt and adjust and I think it's just going to be a good battle overall."
In some ways, it works. Beitashour, the more defensive wing-back in the Reds' roster, will face the marauding Jones; Justin Morrow, a wing-back capable of pocketing a hat-trick, will explore the side that tends to play more narrow.
With the middle likely to be congested between these two teams, it could be the flanks that decide Saturday's contest - and few would bet against Jones being one of its chief protagonists.
Thankfully for Morris, the man who nicked his spot is off to second-tier German side SV Darmstadt 98 in the offseason. In the meantime, Toronto will hope to avoid one last dominant performance from Jones.
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