Seattle Times photographer Lindsey Wasson describes covering Saturday’s MLS Cup in Toronto — amid freezing conditions and projectiles being hurled by fans — and making the photo of Stefan Frei’s one-handed save during the Sounders’ victory.
Preparing to shoot the MLS Cup involves a lot of logistics: Fellow photographer Johnny Andrews and I waded through incredibly confusing customs forms, a new stadium and new rules, and a rather chilly field with a balmy “real feel” of 15 degrees. Gearing up, I wore three layers of pants and jackets, a neck gaiter and two hats! To keep the cold from draining my batteries, I taped hand warmers to the bottoms of my cameras.
A small — but very loud — contingent of Sounders fans was allowed in the upper corner, and I had fun listening to them trade chants with the overwhelmingly Toronto-based crowd. Toronto fans were … spirited. Half of what they threw on the field seemed to end up hitting us photographers in the back of the head. This included ice, a beer can or two and a steady onslaught of streamers.
Because BMO Field doesn’t have a tunnel, photographers had to run through the concourse to switch sides. I think I took out about a dozen people in my panicked frenzies.
Deadlines became a challenge for us as the game wore on and nobody had scored. Even on Pacific time, we were starting to push it. As extra time wore down and the penalty kicks started, another concern was where my coworker Johnny and I should place ourselves. Having two photographers in this case is invaluable: When a team wins, you’re never sure which way they’ll go or what they’ll do. As I secured a spot facing the kickers, Johnny waited on the other side: It paid off, as he got a great shot of the team running toward the fans after Roman Torres’ game-winning kick.
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But the MLS Cup was really mostly about Stefan Frei: He survived an onslaught of 19 Toronto shots, sealing the MVP award with an incredible one-handed save in overtime. Though I thankfully had a clear view of the moment, I’d nearly forgotten about it until after the game, when editor Danny Gawlowski asked if we’d gotten anything. While viewers at home have the benefit of slow-mo replays and multiple camera angles, photographers have to keep tracking the ball in case there’s a game-winning goal 5 seconds later.
All I can say is that I’m glad it was in focus.
I was surprised the next day to find that there weren’t really other versions of that moment, besides a viral video of the play. To be honest, shots on your team’s own goalie are very easy to make because you’re looking straight down the field. All you can do is hope that a player doesn’t step in the way. By sheer luck, I had a great view of Frei’s athletic, acrobatic pose — and the stunned faces of Toronto fans — as he punched Jozy Altidore’s header out of the way to set the stage for those penalty kicks. That MVP was well deserved.