I’ve sat and reflected on this match up revised, and revised on the revisions but I finally know how I want to talk about this game.
90 minutes couldn’t settle it. 30 more didn’t do the trick. Penalty kicks were needed to send Seattle soccer fans into nirvana and Toronto fans into numbness.
This past Saturday’s MLS Cup that saw the Seattle Sounders beat Toronto FC 5-4 on Penalty kicks will go into the archives of MLS history as a classic. The twists and turns of this game could be made into a movie. Seattle winning with zero shots on goal, Sebastian Giovinco having to be subbed off, Toronto pressing and not finding anything in 90 minutes and of course, the save.
Stefan Frei’s greatest moment of his MLS career came in Toronto, a place in which he spent five seasons seeing it all during the down years left Ontario as a champion and stopping his old side from getting a win at his expense with a diving left handed save off of a Jozy Altidore header in the 108th minute that I’ve replayed at least 50 times via a gif on Vine.
It was like poetry, the way Tosaint Rickets was able to get the ball into the box and across for the header, Jozy seemed to hang in the air forever as he put the header on goal…and the hand. The hand of Frei. It’s a moment that could probably get him a statue built outside of Century Link Field in time for the 2017 season.
This season also was a reason for why I love how the MLS is formatted, we wouldn’t have had this if the league was just in one table with the top team taking home the title. MLS allows Cinderallas to make it to a title game or even walk away with it all. MLS will always be slightly different compared to the rest of the world and I like that.
Even with a loss what Toronto FC accomplished this season was incredible. No longer is this franchise the punch line to the jokes of many, the #ThatsSoTFC hashtag has been retired. Sebastian Giovinco along with Michael Bradley, Josy Altidore, Clint Irwin, Tosaint Ricketts and rest of this roster helped revitalize pro soccer in the city, something that was badly needed.
Greg Vanney did what so many of his predecessors couldn’t do. Win. From Mo Johnston to Ryan Nelsen success just didn’t come but under the former long time defender with DC, LA and various other stops around the league he was able to put the pieces together since taking over for Nelsen at the end of the 2014 season.
This loss hurt Vanney in a way that stunned him for a bit and made him feel numb but like he’s done many times before he praised his team for what they accomplished, especially this season and knows they’ll be ready to get back here.
“I’m incredibly proud of this group, from where we were last year to I think what was a lot of adversity through the course of this year they grew together and overcame a lot of challenging moments and grew from them. We got ourselves into the playoffs for the second time and I thought in the playoffs we played a like a team that wanted to go out and win try to win a championship. We put away a lot of goals over the course of a handful of games and defended hard and worked hard as a group and I think there’s a lot of lessons for this group to take away from this run that will only make us better as we go into next year. It’s a group that’s grown incredibly over the last two years and I know they have their heads down right now but they’ll come back fighting once they start pre season next year”.
This was one of the most tortured fan bases in soccer and to fans across the city this day was their best day ever as a Reds supporter. The pre match party at Liberty Village looked mythical. BMO Field and Toronto has a whole has become a truly hostile place to play in MLS as a visiting franchise.
The wins over Philly and New York City to start the playoffs had the city going bonkers, and coming back to knock off Montreal in the way that they did in the Conference finals put this 2016 into the annals of Toronto sports folklore.
These players have a love for this city, this franchise, and it’s fanbase, and want to complete the job.
Seattle for most of this season was looking at not even being a playoff team, much less winning everything. A change had to be made in Cascadia and it happened with Sigi Schmid fired and assistant Brian Schmetzer taking over as he’d lead Seattle for the rest of the season as they’d finish the year with a mark of 14-6-4, good enough for 4th in the Western Conference.
On the pitch the Sounders were lead by rookie Jordan Morris who lead all rookies in scoring with 12 goals along with long time Sounder and FIFA 15 cover man Clint Dempsey (until his season ended in late August after 17 games and 8 goals due to an irregular heartbeat) along with Nicolas Loderio who proved all year to be one of the most dangerous midfielders in North America.
Seattle had been searching since entering MLS in 2009 for their first title once again and their story had been season after season of great regular season performances but falling just short come playoff time. It all came together in the West as they’d get past Kansas City, Dallas and Colorado to make it to their first MLS Cup.
It also was the storybook ending for defender Zach Scott. Scott’s professional career in outdoor soccer was spent entirely with the Sounders and he had experienced it all in a career that began in 2002 in the USL.
Back in September he announced his retirement effective at the end of the 2016 MLS season and in the locker room with champagne being popped around him he knew that if they could get into the playoffs somehow anything from that point on was possible.
“At that point we figured if we’re gonna go down we’re going to go down swinging. We’re not going to give up and were not going to break apart as a team, were going to be focused on our goal and at a minimum it’s make the playoffs, we don’t want it attached to us that we were the first Sounders team to miss the playoffs. So once we hit the playoffs we knew it’s a tournament and after that if were playing soccer we have an opportunity to win it all and that’s exactly what happened. It was just a whirlwind to get to the playoffs and once we got there we knew we had a good shot”.
It wasn’t only the players from Seattle at BMO has a solid contingent of Sounders supporters that made the trip to Toronto for this one and you could clearly hear them once the penalty kick of Roman Torres beat Clint Irwin.
To see so many Seattle fans was something that blew Zach away and he let me know that this is their title as well.
“Oh it was unbelievable! When we first walked out onto the field, we were a good almost two hours before the game and I could hear singing but I couldn’t see them because of the glare from the sun. As I got out there and shielded my eyes the entire upper section was packed in that corner and I was just completely blown away. They’ve been amazing all year and had every right to pull apart from us knowing that we weren’t having a good year but have stuck with us to the end and they deserve this just as much as the guys in this locker room”.
As the door closed on the 21st MLS season and my third covering it, the league right now is improving in both and Canada and the USA . 28 teams is still the goal for the league long term and over 4 million people tuned into TSN for the MLS Cup at some point and time. A number that just a few years ago some would have said was absurd for this league in Canada.
In 2017 it will be fun to see if Seattle can repeat but also see what comes in the next chapter of TFC as they’ve soundly closed the book on being a bottom tier team in this league. The ways of the old are gone, bring on the future.