Despite a beer and Champagne soaked MLS Cup trophy clearly in their possession, there was still debate about the Sounders being the best team of the league’s 2019 season.
The lukewarm controversy Monday was because of defender Kelvin Leerdam’s goal in the 57th minute against Toronto FC on Sunday. Leerdam’s shot attempt was headed wide left before it redirected off Reds defender Chris Mavinga’s knee into the goal. And there was a no-call on Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan’s tackle that prompted the Toronto turnover within the same minute of the goal.
In viewing replays of the moment in question, Roldan clearly cuts off Reds midfielder Jonathan Osorio’s path to prevent him from retaining possession of the ball.
“It should be a tactical foul, no problem,” Osorio told reporters after the 3-1 loss before a record crowd at CenturyLink Field. “But he (referee Allen Chapman) doesn’t call it. They get the ball and score on that play, on a deflection.
“After the play, you can only say so much to the ref. He told me I ran into Roldan. … When a guy explains the play to you in a whole different way than it happened, what can you do?”
Sounders defenders Roman Torres, Kim Kee-hee and Brad Smith were lined up to disrupt any Reds counterattack — as the trio with Gustav Svensson did the entire match. But Leerdam was clear regarding the importance of the first goal of any game, particularly one for a trophy.
“The first goal is always the most important, the second one gave us even more confidence,” Leerdam said. “Everybody did their part and we did it as a team. It’s not my goal, it’s the team’s goal.”
Had the goal been waived off, would Seattle be continuing a delirious celebration with a victory parade Tuesday afternoon? There’s no arguing defensive stops, including Svensson’s marking on Toronto midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo, who had a team-high 12 assists this season, carried Seattle through an opening half where it only had possession of the ball 34.9% of the time.
The Reds had three shots on target during the dominating offensive stretch.
Seattle did rally to defeat top-seeded Los Angeles FC 3-1 in the Western Conference final after LAFC scored the opening goal before its rowdy fans at Banc of California Stadium. However, Toronto entered the match with a 10-3-6 record when scoring first and an eight-match unbeaten streak on the road. It’s not far-fetched to think Sunday’s outcome would be different had Leerdam’s score been nullified due to the foul.
But it counted to end 271 scoreless minutes in championship games against Toronto. The Sounders needed a penalty kick shootout to win its first title in 2016 at the Reds’ BMO Field. Toronto shut out Seattle 2-0 for the 2017 Cup.
Leerdam’s goal — his sixth of the season — was also credited to him and not an own goal. Not that the logging in the stat book matters.
“Every goal counts the same,” Leerdam said. “This is amazing. I’m not going to say it’s better than when my two kids (were born) but it’s still one of the biggest moments of my life.”
Disney Media Networks stated Monday that ABC’s broadcast of the championship averaged 823,000 viewers, according to Nielsen fast nationals, making it the most-watched MLS Cup final since 2014. The peak was the second half, when 1,092,000 viewers tuned in.
Univision said Sunday’s telecast, with 447,000 viewers, was its best since Seattle’s 2016 championship.
There were 69,274 fans in attendance, the largest crowd for a sporting event at CenturyLink Field, topping a November 2016 Seahawks game. It was the second-largest crowd in MLS history, behind Atlanta United’s win in 2018 before 73,019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“All week, I’ve been trying to soak it in a little bit, which is definitely not in my nature,” Sounders co-owner Adrian Hanauer said. “About 10 minutes before the game I began to feel like I was going to throw up for about two hours. When Raul (Ruidiaz) scored (in the 90th minute), that was the dagger and I said to my friends, ‘We’re actually going to win this.’”
While the celebration continues Tuesday, the bulk of the team has pivoted to international duties. Of the starting lineup, keeper Stefan Frei and Kim are the only expected attendees.
Leerdam is among the dozen Sounders players called up for international duty. Born in Suriname, Leerdam is expected to represent the South American country Friday in a CONCACAF Nations League match against Dominica.
Debate all you want about his goal Sunday, but he’ll represent his country Friday as a 2019 MLS champion.