Seattle Sounders 3, Toronto FC 1: Takeaways from MLS Cup

The Seattle Sounders celebrate after beating Toronto FC 3-1 Sunday to win their second MLS Cup title. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

SEATTLE — The hometown Seattle Sounders sent almost 70,000 of their closest friends home in ecstasy in Sunday’s MLS Cup final against Toronto FC, beating the Reds 3-1 in the domestic league’s championship match for the second time in four years to hoist the hardware despite being thoroughly outplayed by the visitors for most of the match.

The lone goal came on about the flukiest play imaginable, but the hosts were happy to take it. Seattle right back Kelvin Leerdam sent a low cross across the face of Toronto’s goal that Reds defender Justin Morrow inadvertently steered into TFC’s net:

The Reds fought hard to equalize, but never got the strike they needed to sent the contest to extra time. And in the end, it was the Sounders who hoisted the hardware once again.

Here are three quick thoughts on the match:

For most of the match, Toronto FC was the better team ...

As they had in the two previous MLS Cup meetings, Toronto FC was far and away the better team. Maybe it was the pressure of playing at home in front of more than 70,000 Rave Green-clad fans. Maybe it was the visitors’ unflappable away demeanor — TFC has earned its big-game chops in recent years, and the Reds came into Sunday’s match having upset both the Eastern Conference champ New York City FC and 2018 MLS Cup winner Atlanta United on the road en route to the finale.

Whatever the reason, Greg Vanney’s team was better than the Sounders from the opening whistle. Heart-and-soul captain Michael Bradley was everywhere, breaking up plays on the rare occasions the Sounders had the ball; TFC controlled an astounding 65 percent of the possession in the first half. When the ball turned over, Toronto sprang forward with purpose, even if the final ball was mostly missing.

On the one occasion in the opening 45 minutes when the hosts got behind the Omar Gonzalez-led back line, keeper Quentin Westberg was there to stone Seattle forward Raul Ruidiaz:

Offensively, the Sounders had no answers for Alejandro Pozuelo’s technical wizardry, the Spanish playmaker consistently able to work himself out of tight spaces. But again, the end product just wasn’t there. And it came back to haunt the visitors in the end.

... But Seattle rode its luck once again

As was the case in Toronto in 2016, when the Sounders beat TFC on penalties, fortune favored the Sounders. That time, an astonishing fingertip save by Stefan Frei on Jozy Altidore set up the spot-kick tiebreaker on which Brian Schmetzer’s side prevailed. The following year, the Canadians made no mistake with a decisive 2-0 triumph that wasn’t as close as that scoreline would suggest, but Vanney and Co. couldn’t capitalize on their early domination on Sunday.

Toronto still had a chance to get back in the game after Morrow’s error, an excellent Westberg save with about 20 minutes remaining keeping them in the contest. But with the crowd rocking and TFC forced to chase the game, other chances were sure to come for Seattle.

Sure enough, in the 76th minute, substitute Victor Rodriguez put the game out of reach by darting through traffic to a loose ball and hammering a glorious right-footed drive past Westberg:

Heartbreak for the Reds yet again

You have to feel for TFC. The Reds put together the best season in MLS history in 2017, winning three trophies (Supporters Shield as regular season champs, MLS Cup, Canadian Championship). They damn near became the first MLS Cup in almost two decades to win the CONCACAF title, losing the regional title on penalties to Mexican giant Chivas Guadalajara.

This defeat might not sting quite as much. Toronto was the East’s No. 4 seed after spending much of the season on the playoff bubble. Seattle were the clear favorites heading in, if only by a hair.

Still, it has to hurt badly for the architects of this team over the last five years: Vanney, Altidore and especially Bradley, who may have played his last game for the club. (TFC still holds an option year, although not at the $6.5 million figure that would’ve automatically triggered had the guests prevailed instead.

As good as Toronto FC has been since 2014, Sunday’s loss again left Reds fans wondering what could have been.

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