Jozy Altidore's 67th-minute goal snapped the Sounders' MLS-record 713-minute postseason scoreless streak, and Toronto added another in stoppage time to avenge last year's MLS Cup.
This time around, there’d be no miracle for Stefan Frei once Jozy Altidore got another point-blank crack at him.
Frei’s iconic overtime save off Toronto FC striker Altidore a year ago helped win the Sounders a title, while his acrobatics 66 minutes into Saturday’s MLS Cup rematch were the only thing keeping his overmatched team alive. But Altidore would make the most of a second chance against his goalkeeping nemesis in the 67th minute, converting a breakaway that sent the Sounders to an eventual 2-0 defeat and ends their run as league champions.
In a somber, postgame locker room, Frei, who’d stood on his head all match long, repelling wave after Toronto wave, admitted it was only a matter of time before the dam burst.
“You can’t expect to bend limitlessly,’’ Frei said. “At some point, you’re going to break.”
And that breaking point came when Altidore sprinted past defender Joevin Jones for a Sebastian Giovinco pass on a play barely onside. Frei rushed out and dove feet-first to his right to cut down the angle, but Altidore chipped the ball by him to his left.
The crowd of 30,584 at BMO Field exploded in a thunderous eruption as the ball bounded into the net. A Sounders shutout streak of more than six games and a league playoff record 714 minutes dating to last season was finally over.
And so were the Sounders’ hopes of becoming only the fourth Major League Soccer team to repeat as champions.
The Sounders mounted next to no attack the rest of the way before Victor Vazquez sealed it in the 94th minute by slamming a rebound home after an initial Armando Cooper strike rattled off the goalpost.
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Up until the breakthrough by Altidore, named the game’s Most Valuable Player, it seemed the Sounders might pull off the impossible a second straight year. Toronto had been snakebit against Frei through 186 minutes of MLS Cup play since last year and striker Giovinco moments earlier had clasped his head in disbelief after the keeper somehow got in front of yet another of his blasts.
But the Sounders never could kick it into gear and Altidore, even with a sore ankle that hobbled him in the conference finals, shifted into overdrive as he anticipated the Giovinco pass. His subsequent goal was justice of sorts for a Toronto side that had toyed with the Sounders in lopsided fashion.
Toronto enjoyed an 11-2 margin in shots on target, a 58-24 edge in duels won and a 57-43 percentage advantage in possession. If not for Frei thwarting Jonathan Osario with a diving stop and then Giovinco on a partial break down the right side moments apart in the first half, the game would have been long done by the time Altidore struck.
“Last year, we were able to bend and not break and that was great,’’ Frei said. “But especially after the first half, it needed to be a wakeup call for us at halftime to really shake up the game and change something because we weren’t going to survive another half like that.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer tried to make halftime adjustments. His players were turning the ball over far too easily and couldn’t find any rhythm.
Jones had finally registered a harmless shot in the 30th minute for the Sounders’ first in these two MLS Cup outings against Toronto. But Jones was far more dangerous in nearly redirecting the ball into his own net late in the half, while Román Torres nearly did the same in the second half when passing the ball back to an unsuspecting Frei.
The halftime adjustments by Schmetzer ultimately failed to take hold.
“We usually out-pass every team, we usually outduel every team,” midfielder Cristian Roldan said, adding the Sounders “got outfought in every category.”
Forward Jordan Morris, who replaced an ineffective Victor Rodriguez in the 71st minute,, said Schmetzer implored the team at halftime to control the ball more.
“They just had more possession than us in the first half and we couldn’t get into a rhythm,’’ Morris said. “But they made it difficult. They were high-pressing and they were playing a lot of long balls. Guys were working hard. It wasn’t an effort thing at all. It was just we weren’t able to keep the ball quite as well as we’re used to.’’
But despite the near-invisible attack, Schmetzer waited until four minutes after Altidore’s opening goal to bring on Morris and until stoppage time to sub-in Nouhou for Jones. Schmetzer admitted he’ll wonder well into the winter whether he should have gone to his bench sooner.
“I’ll do some self reflection on that,’’ he said. “And it’s one of those things that I’ll learn from as a coach to see if I can’t figure out ways that I could have helped the team.”
There’s been little second-guessing of Schmetzer during this remarkable Sounders run of the last two seasons. Taking over a team hovering near the Western Conference basement in July 2016, he won one championship in this hostile environment a year ago and seemed poised to pull out another if Frei had any magic left.
Frei still did right up to the 67th minute. But his team, ultimately, did not.
“At some point,’’ Schmetzer said, “if you’re going to rely on your goalkeeper that often and in that many critical moments, one of them is going to go through.”
Altidore’s finally did to deliver a championship to a stacked Toronto team that might easily play in this title game a year from now. As for Schmetzer’s crew, a long, gut-testing journey now begins if they hope to do the same.