The Major League Soccer season concluded on Sunday, and it ended with a bang. A huge bang… but only if you are a Seattle Sounders fan. If your allegiance falls with Toronto FC, it all ended with massive disappointment.
The MLS Cup, played in CenturyLink Field in Seattle, was a strange game, to say the least, and featured just a little bit of everything. There were emotional highs and lows, lots of goals for the home side, and some slightly dubious refereeing.
The stadium was electric with close to 70,000 fans packing it, the most fans to ever see an event at the venue. The singing, chanting, and flag-waving continued non-stop right up until the opening whistle.
Then it went silent.
On paper, the two sides looked to be evenly matched, but no one told Toronto. The Canadian side came flying out of the gates and instantly took the home crowd out of the game by dominating the ball and putting the Sounders on their back foot.
How could the underdogs come into this environment and dominate such an important game?
They used precision passing, stout defending, and possession soccer, which left the Sounders swinging at air. Toronto put on a clinic, and Seattle was left scrambling. The entire first half was a lesson on how to knock the ball around and pressure your opponent into stupid mistakes.
The Reds looked dangerous, especially forward Alejandro Pozuelo, and made Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei come up with some nice saves to keep the home side in the match. However, despite having almost 65% of the possession in the first half, Toronto went into halftime with nothing to show for it. Yes, they created several chances and had Seattle guessing, but they just couldn’t get that final touch and put the ball in the net.
That would prove costly.
Seattle went into halftime scratching their heads and wondering where their stellar form had gone. They had played so well in their conference final upset of the league’s best team in LA FC, but that team was nowhere to be found.
They looked nervous, could not hang on to the ball, and, until the final minute of the half, had not created anything dangerous. Captain Nicolas Lodeiro looked uncharacteristically flustered. He needlessly gave the ball away time and time again, leading to the huge discrepancy in possession between the two teams.
Fortunately for the Sounders, it was 0-0 at the break.
As he has done all season long, head coach Brian Schmetzer made the necessary adjustments in the locker room, and a different looking Seattle side headed into the final 45 minutes.
Sounders wingers Jordan Morris and Joevin Jones switched sides of the field to give the attack an unexpected new look and Seattle started pressing Toronto higher up the field.
The strong second-half start helped push the momentum toward the home team, and it all paid off in the 57th minute.
A crunching tackle from Seattle midfielder Cristian Roldan popped the ball directly to the feet of forward Raul Ruidiaz, who quickly fed a ball to defender Kelvin Leerdam on the right wing. After faking one defender, Leerdam got off a low, hard shot that deflected off Toronto defender Justin Morrow and into the net. Seattle 1-0.
Toronto quickly surrounded referee Allen Chapman and argued Roldan’s tackle should have been whistled, which would have negated the goal. After the referees took a quick look at video, the goal stood, and the entire game quickly changed.
The crowd was abruptly back in it, the Sounders had renewed energy, and Toronto was left scrambling. Schmetzer quickly inserted winger Victor Rodriguez in the 61st minute, and that proved to be a stroke of genius.
Rodriguez looked dangerous the minute he set foot on the pitch, and after a nifty give-and-go with Lodeiro in the 76th minute, Rodriquez buried a curling shot, and it was 2-0 Seattle. The celebration was on.
Ruidiaz finished scoring in the final minutes to put the icing on the cake. A meaningless Toronto tally put the final score line at 3-1.
Was Seattle the better team on Sunday? No. Is there a legitimate argument that Seattle was dominated in all three of the MLS Cup matches these two teams have played? Yes.
But you know what? In soccer, the best team doesn’t always win. Seattle did just enough in the first half to hang on and get to the locker room with the score still tied. They did just enough to get the goal from Leerdam that opened the game up and lead to their two other goals. That’s all it took. They did just enough.
This game pretty much summed up the Sounders’ season. It was a rollercoaster of good, bad, and, at times, great soccer. The team and the organization have created the recipe for postseason success, and it continues to excite fans and achieve results.
They may not be the best, fastest, most technical team. They may give up too many goals and battle too many injuries, but you can’t deny their winning ways.
MLS champions—again! It has a nice ring to it.