The Seattle Sounders captured their first MLS Cup championship in a thrilling extra-time victory over Toronto FC on Saturday night. After a scoreless encounter through 120 minutes, the Sounders defeated the hosts 5-4 on penalties.
Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei was voted MLS Cup 2016 MVP with an outstanding performance throughout and made seven saves. A potent Toronto attack was kept from scoring in an impressive overall defensive display from Seattle.
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US international striker Jozy Altidore had scored in five consecutive playoff matches coming into Saturday, but could not find the back of the net thanks to Frei’s heroics. A sublime moment for the former Toronto goalkeeper came in extra-time when a looping Altidore header seemed destined for goal until an incredible diving save from Frei kept the match level.
After four successful strikes from the penalty spot for both clubs, Reds defender Justin Morrow hit the crossbar and gave Seattle center-back Roman Torres the chance to win the match. The Panama national team star would not miss and sent the traveling Sounders supporters into wild jubilation.
Defense wins championships
A common phrase in the National Football League, the motto rang true this year in Major League Soccer as well.
In six 2016 MLS Cup playoff matches, the Sounders kept three clean sheets and were seemingly always able to keep the game in front of them. Torres and fellow central defender Chad Marshall were fantastic playing alongside one another once Torres returned from injury late in the season.
Defensive midfielders Cristian Roldan and Osvaldo Alonso struggled in the first half on Saturday but were able to patrol the space in front of the backline effectively in the second half and extra-time.
After keeping the Colorado Rapids in check during the second leg of the Western Conference finals, Seattle was even more impressive in the championship game. Toronto had scored in every 2016 playoff match coming into Saturday.
Toronto have an offseason to lament missed chances
Stefan Frei and the Seattle defense lead the way, but Toronto FC and manager Greg Vanney will be frustrated by how close they came to bringing home their first MLS Cup.
19 shots and the majority of possession point out just how much Toronto was able to find key opportunities to break the deadlock.
The Reds attack earned ten corner kicks overall and dictated the tempo of the match, especially in the first half. Italian international Sebastian Giovinco was able to find space in the final third and completed several dangerous passes towards goal.
On a different night, the Toronto supporters would still be celebrating a league title as we speak.
With Toronto already winning the Canadian Championship over the summer, both sides will now be a part of the 2017-18 CONCACAF Champions League competition this coming fall.
The Seattle Sounders have always boasted a variety of quality goalscorers within their line-up during their time in MLS. Freddy Montero, Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey have all helped to provide offensive firepower in the Emerald City.
Ironically, it was a squad focused on determined defensive work and world-class goalkeeping that brought the club their first MLS Cup.