Roman Torres converted the winning penalty in the sixth round of the shootout to lift the Sounders to their first MLS Cup title on Saturday night at BMO Field.
TORONTO — Roman Torres converted the winning penalty in the sixth round of the shootout to lift the Sounders to their first MLS Cup title on Saturday night at BMO Field. The previous 120 minutes finished scoreless, and Seattle won the shootout 5-4.
These are my first impressions:
– What drama.
Penalty-kick shootouts might not be the fairest way to decide a title, but they might be the single most dramatic. Every one of the 36,045 hearts at BMO were lodged somewhere in their owners’ throats as the teams traded punches and counterpunches in the shootout.
Jozy Altidore scored first for Toronto, then Brad Evans answered for Seattle. TFC’s Michael Bradley blinked first, his weak shot saved by a diving Stefan Frei, but Clint Irwin evened the score with a block of Alvaro Fernandez’s effort.
The shootout went into a sudden-death round, where Justin Morrow blasted his shot off the crossbar and Torres his into Sounders history. Seattle, at long last, is an MLS Cup champion.
– Frei saved the day.
With the wind chill factored in, temperature at kickoff was somewhere in the low teens. A brisk wind blowing in off Lake Ontario didn’t help matters. Fans huddled around the space heaters lining the walls of the concourse.
For field players, cold weather doesn’t change much, other than adding an extra level of pain into especially crunching tackles. Goalkeepers are the ones you have to worry about, as Frei outlined earlier this week.
‘Keepers try to keep moving, to keep the blood flowing, but there’s only so much one can do within the constraints of his own penalty box. Fingers get numb. Muscles start to stiffen. Then, out of nowhere, you’re called into action.
Frei was made to stand around for the better part of 92 minutes. Sure, Toronto fired off far more shots than its counterpart, but most them were blocked, or fired wide. Few of the rest really tested Seattle’s netminder.
Until the 93rd minute of a scoreless game, in the dying seconds of stoppage time, when a corner kick bounced toward a waiting Jozy Altidore at the far post. In the millisecond he had to react, Frei flung himself forward, beating the Toronto forward to the ball and punching it out of danger.
His save in the second period of stoppage time was even better.
Altidore looped a goal-bound header for the upper corner of the net, but Frei, backtracking, got a read on the arc of the shot and was able to acrobatically claw the ball wide of goal. It would have a nominee for Save of the Season in a run-of-the-mill July match. With everything on the line, this was something else.
In a stadium where he spent the first five years of his career before being unceremoniously traded, Frei had himself a night for the ages.
– The atmosphere lived up to the occasion.
Toronto has waited a decade for this night, a cycle of lost seasons and roster rebuilds ever since its inaugural MLS campaign in 2007. It took TFC nine years just to reach its first postseason in 2015.
Seattle’s wait was two years shorter and considerably less futile, broken up by four U.S. Open Cup titles and the 2014 regular-season championships. But years of consistent contention followed by playoff letdowns left their own kind of scar. Those minor trophies served as little consolation last year, when little-brother Portland became the first Cascadian club to win the league championship.
These two first-time MLS Cup finalists waited a long time for this night, and from a spectacle standpoint, it certainly lived up to those years of anticipation.
Renovated BMO Field was packed to its eaves. The a cappella O, Canada from the home crowd inspired goosebumps, and the traveling Sounders fans did their best to make their collective voice heard, too.
– In terms of on-field action, though, this one left something to be desired.
This was the type of soccer match your grumpy, anti-communist uncle grumbled about over Thanksgiving dinner.
The Sounders didn’t play pretty, and that was part of their plan.
Seattle spent most of the night pinned back in its own half of the field, rarely so much as connecting consecutive passes. It didn’t register a single shot until late in the second half – and even that was a long-range Osvaldo Alonso blast that Michael Bradley blocked directly into a Toronto counterattack.
The Sounders became the first MLS Cup finalist in history to not register a single shot on goal in regulation. Their three total shots were also a new low.
The Sounders succeeded, however, in their main objective: Slowing down Toronto’s high-powered attack, which had already scored a record 17 goals this postseason entering the night. Playing as underdogs in a hostile environment, Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer opted to play cautiously – as evidenced by his replacing creative force Andreas Ivanschitz by the more-utilitarian Erik Friberg in the starting lineup.
Seattle moved the ball too slowly, allowing Toronto’s defense to settle into position. It was wary of committing too many numbers forward and so lacked for teammates to outlet pass to.
Sounders fans won’t be quibbling over style points in the coming days.