TORONTO — The Seattle Sounders won the 2016 MLS Cup final on penalty kicks after a 0-0 tie against Toronto in an unsightly game in bitterly cold conditions on Saturday. Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei was the hero, making the greatest high-stakes save in MLS history in extra-time on Jozy Altidore’s looping header.
Seattle raised its first MLS Cup trophy despite having just three shots in the game and zero shots on goal, both record lows for a team in the MLS final.
Román Torres, who had been tremendous in defense for Seattle, converted the winning spot kick for the Sounders in the sixth round after Toronto’s Justin Morrow had hit the crossbar with his penalty.
Here are three thoughts on the game:
Take a bow, Stefan Frei
In a game that produced few lasting images, the Seattle goalkeeper saved Michael Bradley’s attempt during penalties, but he came up even bigger with an absolute gem during extra time. Toronto’s Tosaint Ricketts sent a terrific cross to Altidore, whose looping header appeared destined for top right corner. Then Frei–who played for Toronto FC from 2009-2013–made like a superhero, switching the direction of his feet in an instant and exploding sideways before using his left hand like a meathook to reach behind him and reject the ball like a shot-blocker in basketball.
Altidore couldn’t have done any better, but Frei was up to the challenge. On a night that left few indelible memories, Frei’s majestic save will be one of them. World class.
This one won’t go down as a classic
Yes, it’s true that finals in soccer are rarely swashbuckling affairs, and yet this one was more unlovely than most. Maybe it was the bitter cold. Maybe it was chippy tone that got established early, with Sebastian Giovinco hitting the floor twice in the first three minutes and Nelson Valdez kicking Drew Moor in the groin.
Maybe it was referee Alan Kelly keeping too many yellow cards in his pocket (including two or three that could have gone to Osvaldo Alonso). But this was a disjointed affair, with enough errant passing and lost possession that you found yourself saying “Come on, MAN” at regular intervals. In the end, Seattle’s three shots and zero shots on goal were the lowest ever in an MLS final. This was the first MLS final in years on network television, and while drama and cageyness with a trophy on the line has value, MLS probably missed out on a chance to add new fans on Saturday.
Seattle won the trophy in the year you’d least expect it
No team in the history of MLS had ever made the playoffs after having 20 or fewer points 20 games into the regular season. Seattle had 20 after 20 and went on a magnificent run under new coach Brian Schmetzer. The Sounders did it without stars Clint Dempsey (heart condition) and Obafemi Martins (left before the season for China), but the additions of Nicolás Lodeiro (by transfer) and Torres (return from injury) reinvigorated a team that entered the postseason on a high.
It was brutally painful for Seattle fans to see archrival Portland win its first MLS Cup trophy last season. But Seattle finally backed up the buzz that has surrounded the Sounders ever since they joined MLS to great fanfare in 2009. The best-supported team in MLS is finally the MLS champion.