Five months ago, the Seattle Sounders FC were more concerned with avoiding embarrassment at the potential worst season in the club’s history. Instead, they’ve now reached the peak of the one mountain they had never climbed.
Roman Torres’ penalty on the first attempt of sudden death was true on the left side, lifting the Sounders to their first MLS Cup title in team history, defeating Toronto FC 5-4 on penalties after a scoreless 120 minutes between the two teams on Saturday night at BMO Field in Toronto.
The Seattle Sounders FC never got a shot on target against Toronto goalkeeper Clint Irwin and didn’t register their first shot of any kind until the 81st minute, but didn’t need a shot thanks to an incredible effort from goalkeeper Stefan Frei, facing his former team in his return to Toronto.
Frei almost singlehandedly made his former club pay for losing him with seven saves, none bigger than one in the 108th minute to rob Toronto’s Jozy Altidore of a goal and keep the match scoreless. TFC’s Tosain Ricketts set up a three-on-two break by getting past the Seattle Sounders FC defense down the left side and sent a cross in the penalty area to Altidore, who got a head on it and seemingly had it heading toward the top right corner of the net for the goal that would win Toronto its first title.
Instead, Frei’s outstretched left arm lifted the ball away from the net and sent it back into the field of play, where Torres was able to clear the ball and end the Reds’ threat. Frei would again come up big for the Seattle Sounders in the penalty shootout when he blocked Michael Bradley’s attempt, helping Seattle stay in the shootout through the regulation five shooters.
With the teams tied at four in the shootout, Toronto’s Justin Morrow sent Frei the wrong way, but drove his shot into the crossbar and off, handing Torres a chance to win the title for the Sounders. The Panamanian drilled his shot under the bar and into the mesh, then raced off to the left in celebration, joined almost instantly by the rest of his team.
The victory earned Seattle its first MLS title in its eighth year in the league, ending a long wait for one of the league’s most celebrated clubs. The Sounders had won nearly everything else available to them, having claimed four U.S. Open Cups and a Supporters’ Shield in 2014, but until Saturday, the closest Seattle had come to an MLS trophy was the Western Conference finals.
The odds that this would be the year that the Seattle Sounders broke through seemed bleak in July, when the team parted ways with coach Sigi Schmid and was at the bottom of the Western Conference. However, the Sounders responded to assistant coach Brian Schmetzer’s promotion and the arrival of Nicolas Lodeiro and wound up qualifying in fourth place in the West. With a rejuvenated attack and Frei posting his fourth clean sheet of the postseason, the Sounders finally found the answers they had been missing for seven years, touching off a wild celebration as they became the second straight Cascadia club to win the title.
Readers, are you surprised by the Seattle Sounders FC run? What did you think of the match? Can Seattle build off this and defend its title in 2017? Sound off in the comments below.
Commentary by Dan Angell