Despite the New York Red Bulls abandoning the competition about three weeks ago, MLS is persisting with its end-of-year tournament - imaginatively titled MLS Cup.
The first finalist has emerged: Seattle Sounders have completed their late-season resurrection to claim a spot in the league's showpiece match on December 10.
It is an impressive return to relevance for a team that lost 12 of its first 20 games of the 2016 MLS season. After that catastrophic beginning and middle of this year's campaign, it was clear Seattle would see out the rest of the year in rebuilding mode. Except it didn't work out that way: the Sounders won eight of their last 14 league games, lost just twice more in the regular season, and finished fourth in the Western Conference (with a points total - 48 - that wouldn't have qualified them for the playoffs at all in 2015).
And the playoffs have suited the resurgent squad. Seattle has got a little bit better with each round of the playoffs. In its first match of the post-season, the team claimed a 1-0 home win over lackluster Sporting Kansas City. In the next round, a 3-0 home win over Shield-winning FC Dallas was sufficient to advance despite losing the return leg, 2-1. In the Western Conference final, the Sounders went one better and won both legs.
Carrying a 2-1 lead into Colorado, Seattle defied an enthusiastic but wayward Rapids side that unleashed 16 shots with none on target. The Sounders meanwhile were a little more efficient. Jordan Morris converted one of the few chances to fall Seattle's way.
Out of nowhere Jordan Morris gives Seattle a 1-0 lead! It's 3-1 Seattle on aggregate! pic.twitter.com/C5g8u7ydTD— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) November 27, 2016
Colorado was denied a decent shout for a penalty...
The ball definitely strikes Marshall in the arm, but the ref rules it as inadvertent and in a natural position. pic.twitter.com/VJdPMkScJB— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) November 27, 2016
...but a team that can't land any of 16 shots on target has only itself to blame for defeat. The Sounders won the second leg, 1-0, and can count themselves on of the more surprising MLS Cup finalists since...well, last year when the Portland Timbers won four of their last five regular season games, finished third in the West, and carried that form into the post-season and all the way to the Cup.
Seattle's turnaround can be attributed to the events of July 26 and 27. On July 26, the Sounders decided to part ways with Sigi Schmid, the only coach the club had known since arriving in MLS in 2009. On July 27, the team welcomed Urguayan playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro, who has immediately established himself as one of the most effective players in the league.
Both decisions broke with the conventional wisdom of MLS. Switching away from Schmid was not a hasty decision - he had been coaching the Sounders since 2009 - but teams in the league are generally reluctant to change coaches in mid-season. Only three MLS clubs switched coaches during the 2016 season, and more than three clubs had disappointing years.
As it happens, the Sounders also confounded the view that a fresh perspective on the sidelines can turn a team around: Schmid's replacement was Brian Schmetzer, who had been head coach of the side before it moved to MLS and stuck around as an assistant after the change in leagues. There aren't many people on the planet who know Seattle Sounders FC better than Schmetzer, which might help explain the near-instant turnaround.
Lodeiro's success is also anomalous. Every year, the league welcomes new recruits in the summer, but it is generally expected that mid-season arrivals won't be at their best until the following year. If Lodeiro is not currently at his best, the Sounders will be a very troubling proposition for MLS 2017, because he is already among the best players in the league.
All told, a team that was among the worst in the league until the end of July is now in the MLS Cup final. And if Montreal Impact beats Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference final (to be decided on November 30), the Sounders will host the Championship game and be favored to win it.