All goals, Full Match, Full Highlights, Highlights Extended, score and goals: Toronto 0-0 Seattle Sounders (Pen 4-5) – Highlights (MLS Final)
TORONTO — In one of the more remarkable turnarounds in M.L.S. history, the Seattle Sounders won their first M.L.S. Cup on Saturday night, defeating Toronto F.C., 5-4, in a penalty shootout after 120 minutes of scoreless play in an intense and frigid setting.
Back in mid-August, in the regular season, the Sounders appeared to be going nowhere. But an ascent that included a coaching change continued into the playoffs, ending in a game the Sounders did not win so much as survive.
They were outplayed by Toronto for the most part and failed to register a single shot on goal. But they played resilient defense and got fine work from goalkeeper Stefan Frei, including a lunging, one-handed save in overtime on a header by Toronto’s Jozy Altidore.
They prevailed in the shootout, in which Toronto missed two of its six penalty kicks and Seattle missed only one.
“They’ve been resilient for a very long time,” Seattle Coach Brian Schmetzer said. “But I think at the beginning of this year, when we started off in preseason, we knew we had a good team, a veteran team. The reasons for the slow start we can pick apart. But I think the base was always there. They found a way to win and persevere in tough situations.”
The below-freezing temperature did little to quiet the raucous crowd at BMO Field, announced at 36,045, with tickets having sold out just minutes after going on sale. But the cold did affect the quality of the game, which was full of errors and lacked a consistent flow.
Toronto, which had scored a staggering 17 goals in its first five games of the playoffs, was in complete control early in Saturday’s game, with the star forward Sebastian Giovinco creating several good opportunities. The team had a golden chance in just the second minute of the game when a free kick delivered by Michael Bradley set up a combination between Altidore and Giovinco, with Altidore sending the final shot just wide.
The game quickly became more physical, but Toronto, also seeking its first M.L.S. Cup, continued to dominate. In the 15th minute, Giovinco played a ball into the box that allowed Altidore to set up Jonathan Osorio for a shot, but Frei made a nice save. In the 30th minute, a Justin Morrow cross again set up Altidore, but his header again did not get past Frei.
Seattle’s best moments in regulation — and there were not many — came when it tried to counterattack through its forward Jordan Morris, the league’s rookie of the year. But each time, Toronto’s defense was able to break up the play before Seattle could put an actual shot on the net.
“They made it really tough for us going forward, so their game plan worked really well,” Morris said. “So halftime, I don’t think we were frustrated. We were still in the game. It’s 0-0 away from home in a very tough environment. We knew chances would come.”
At times, Seattle was reduced to fouling Toronto, and a lot of the rough tactics were directed at Giovinco. Toronto could not produce with its set pieces, and the score remained 0-0 after 45 minutes.
In the second half, Toronto had another good chance as Osorio set up Giovinco, but he missed the net with a near-post shot.
On the game went, the fans standing, the temperature in the low 20s, each team working to keep the other in check.
“I am not criticizing the team, but I really wish we could have played a little bit better,” Schmetzer said. “There were key moments where we didn’t connect that simple pass or we turned it over.”
Toronto was determined to minimize the influence of Seattle’s Nicolas Lodeiro, and Lodeiro, signed by Seattle during the season in a move that helped spur the team’s resurgence, could not conquer Toronto or the cold.
But Seattle frustrated its opponent with defense, too, with a standout performance from central defender Roman Torres. The game remained scoreless right through the 90 minutes of regulation.
That meant 30 minutes of overtime, a challenge on a night as cold as this one. Giovinco was replaced by Tosaint Ricketts, who nearly gave Toronto a lead in the 107th minute but had his shot inside the box roll narrowly wide.
“They had numbers around the goal and in the box,” Toronto Coach Greg Vanney said. “Whenever we got in those areas, we couldn’t get the final pass or finish it. We didn’t have a chance to pick out a window to find a corner. When we did, we just missed the goal. For the couple, few times we did hit the goal, Frei picks it out.”
In the 108th minute, Ricketts sent a cross to Altidore, whose floating header seemed headed into the corner of the goal. But Frei, who was named the game’s most valuable player, got his left hand on the ball and deflected it away.
In the end, the two exhausted teams had to settle the matter with a shootout. Toronto’s Michael Bradley, the captain of the United States men’s national team, had a weak shot that was blocked, but Toronto goalkeeper Clint Irwin blocked a Seattle shot to even things up.
In the shootout’s sixth round, though, Toronto’s Morrow hit the crossbar with his shot, and Torres converted. Just like that, the title was Seattle’s.
Torres and Frei were mobbed by their teammates as the thousands of spectators who had traveled from Seattle roared their approval. They were half-frozen but very happy, indeed.