Toronto FC vs. Seattle Sounders: Chapter Three

The Seattle Sounders completed their tumultuous road to the MLS Cup Final, coming out on top of Toronto FC in the finals for the second time in four years.

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The 69,000 fans watching the MLS Cup Final cheered with ecstasy as the Seattle Sounders’ recent transfer Raúl Ruidíaz took advantage of a clearance and chipped a goal over Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg. That was it. The Sounders had sealed their victory over Toronto with a three-goal lead by the 90th minute, winning their second MLS title. Even though Toronto’s recently injured striker Jozy Altidore hit a header in extra time to finally get Toronto on the scoreboard, the Sounders held on to their lead, ultimately conquering Toronto 3-1.

Toronto faced the Sounders for the third time in the past four years in this final. Each team won one of their two previous games in the 2016 and 2017 MLS finals and both teams failed to make the final last year. This match was the culmination of one of MLS’s greatest trilogies, one that had the Sounders scoreless for 267 minutes in their two prior championship matches.

The Sounders went into the final match as slight favorites since they were playing at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. With them being one of the most passionately supported clubs in the MLS, the Sounders’ record attendance before the 2019 final was a turnout of 67,000 spectators for a match against local rival Portland Timbers. This time, tickets for the match were sold out within 20 minutes of their release.

In their previous MLS final matchups against each other, the Sounders won 5-4 in penalties after a 0-0 game in 2016, and Toronto won 2-0 in 2017. The only match this year between the two came in June, when Seattle defeated Toronto 3-2 at CenturyLink Field. However, Will Bruin, the Sounders’ top goalscorer that night, suffered an ACL injury shortly afterwards and was out for the season. USA international striker Altidore, who scored both goals for Toronto that game, had also been injured recently, but he recovered to join the final this year and was the only Toronto player to find the back of the net. Toronto defender Omar Gonzalez was fit enough to join the starting 11 in the final after an injury prevented him from a postseason debut.

Both teams featured a number of players who participated in the previous two MLS Cup Finals between these two teams. Eight of the Toronto squad were still with the team, while six of the Seattle team that lifted the trophy in 2016 were still on the club’s roster, providing adequate and necessary experience to both sides.

Michael Bradley, Toronto’s captain and one of their Designated Players, was in the final year of his contract. The highest-paid player in the MLS last season behind Zlatan Ibrahimovich, with a salary of $6.5 million a year, Bradley had a clause in his current contract stating that if Toronto won the MLS Cup, he would have to commit to the club for at least one more season. This was Bradley’s last year with Toronto if he chooses to sign elsewhere.

The Sounders started the finals with a defensive playing style and attempted to capitalize off of counterattacks. Toronto dominated the first half with 65 percent possession, creating various threatening opportunities. They quickly tore the crowd’s hopes down as they continuously attacked with more than double the number of passes than the Sounders made. The first half ended 0-0, and the Sounders knew they had to increase their energy and aggressiveness.

In the 56th minute, Ruidíaz swung the ball out of pressure across the pitch to Sounders’ right-back Kelvin Leerdam. Leerdam took an excellent touch off his chest into the box and took a shot that ricocheted off of Toronto defender Justin Moore’s left leg into the goal. The Sounders had broken their spell of no goals scored in any cup final match, and the record-breaking crowd woke up from their slumber, creating an electrifying atmosphere that pushed the Sounders forward. Encouraged by the chants radiating through the stadium, Lodeiro supplied Sounders midfielder Victor Rodriguez with a perfect layoff, allowing him to pinpoint a shot into the inside of the right netting. Even at a two-goal disadvantage, Toronto never lost hope, since they had won their first three playoff games with a goal past the 75th minute. Altidore entered in the 68th minute and scored a fantastic distanced header in a final attempt at a comeback. As Lodeiro fell to the ground holding the ball, the whistle blew, and the Sounders had seen through their dream. After a season filled with adversity, they had won it all. The next thing Sounders’ captain Lodeiro held was the Philip F. Anschutz trophy with the rest of his team, showered with confetti and joy.