Seattle Sounders Cap Emotional Year by Earning Elusive MLS Cup

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2016

Seattle Sounders celebrate their MLS Cup final victory over Toronto FC at BMO Field on December 10, 2016 in Toronto. / AFP / Cole Burston        (Photo credit should read COLE BURSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
COLE BURSTON/Getty Images

TORONTO — The Seattle Sounders have lifted trophies before. 

The Sounders have also been at or near the top of the Major League Soccer totem pole since arriving in the league eight years ago. 

But there was always a void in the trophy case, at least until Saturday night. 

The Sounders were crowned MLS champions on a 5-4 penalty shootout victory over Toronto FC at BMO Field after 120 minutes of scoreless play failed to decide anything. 

“It’s amazing," Sounders captain Osvaldo Alonso said in a champagne-soaked visitors locker room at BMO Field. "I’ve been here for a long time and I’ve longed for this moment. I’m very happy for the fans, the franchise." 

What makes the club's first MLS championship even more unbelievable is the steps, backward and forward, that were taken to get to the podium placed in the middle of the pitch on a cold December night on the shores of Lake Ontario. 

 

Seattle fired manager Sigi Schmid, who led the club to four U.S. Open Cups and a Supporters' Shield in 2014, in late July before handing Brian Schmetzer the reins on a temporary basis, which then turned into a permanent gig as manager. 

The past finals the Sounders experienced in other competitions prepared them for the day the franchise and the city have been waiting for since the club was reborn as an MLS franchise. 

"We’ve had experience with Open Cups and closing out Supporters Shield games, with what felt like a championship at home in 2014," midfielder Brad Evans said. "We put ourselves in a good position tonight. We played well enough to get into penalty kicks and at that point it’s a crapshoot." 

The Sounders were able to manhandle Toronto FC's forward pairing of Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore thanks to a matchup they knew played in their favor. 

“We knew our defense was up for the challenge," Evans said "The physical battle with Jozy is one that these guys relished." 

Seattle Sounders celebrate their MLS Cup final victory over Toronto FC at BMO Field on December 10, 2016 in Toronto. / AFP / Cole Burston        (Photo credit should read COLE BURSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
COLE BURSTON/Getty Images

Although Toronto controlled the match from the outset, the center-back duo of Chad Marshall and Roman Torres held Giovinco and Altidore to a combined three shots on target over 120 minutes. 

The last attempt placed on target will go down in Sounders and MLS lore forever. Altidore's header appeared destined for the back-right part of the net until Frei lifted his left hand and swatted the ball off the line. 

TORONTO, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 10:  Roman Torres #29 and Osvaldo Alonso #6 of the Seattle Sounders break away against the Toronto FC during the 2016 MLS Cup at BMO Field on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Seattle defeated Toronto in the 6th ro
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

“I just tried not to give up and see if there’s anything I can do," Frei said. "Try to keep my feet moving and leap and thankfully I was able to get to it." 

“It was one hell of a save," Altidore said. "At the end of the day, you have to pull off something special and we weren’t able to." 

At that point in the 108th minute, you sensed that somehow the Sounders would find a way to pull off the victory, despite being the first team in MLS history to go through an MLS Cup without a single shot on target. 

"I thought they dominated us to be honest," Seattle midfielder Cristian Roldan said. "And for us to stick to our game plan and fight through everything, it’s a characteristic of the team we have." 

After fighting for 12 more minutes, the Sounders approached penalties with all of the momentum and confidence in the world on their side. 

“The momentum swings for me in my mind (on Frei's save)," Evans said. "That’s a world-class save. That’s a legendary save." 

Frei and Toronto FC goalkeeper Clint Irwin traded saves one round apart in penalties to force a sixth round. 

Toronto's luck ran out as Justin Morrow's spot kick struck the bottom portion of the crossbar in the middle of the goal. 

"As the goalkeeper, I have to say I’m not a big fan of PKs," Frei said. "Somehow you have to decide a game, but for me, football is a team sport and that’s the beauty of it. It sucks that it has to come down to an individual." 

Morrow's miss put Torres in the position to send a city and franchise into a rush of emotion never felt before. 

After Torres blasted his penalty into the top part of the goal, he rushed across the left side of the field surrounded by his teammates in the direction of the Sounders supporters in the upper deck. 

TORONTO, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 10:  Nicolas Lodeiro #10 of the Seattle Sounders plays against Jonathan Osorio #21 of the Toronto FC during the 2016 MLS Cup at BMO Field on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Seattle defeated Toronto in the 6th rou
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

"I was very pleased for Roman, although he will tell you if you ask him that he was a forward when he was growing up," Schmetzer said. "We don’t know if we believe that story, but he swears he was a forward when he was growing up in Panama.”

The final penalty was much different than the one in Seattle's final training session before the championship match. 

“Roman actually missed a PK in training yesterday," Frei said. "I’m glad he missed that one and not the one today." 

The infusion of Torres back into the starting lineup combined with the acquisition of Nicolas Lodeiro and the breath of fresh air provided by Schmetzer allowed the Sounders to overcome any adversity they faced.

In many ways, Schmetzer is the perfect man to lead the Sounders. Schmetzer is a lifetime Sounder. Schmetzer played for the Sounders in the NASL from 1980-1983 and managed them in the USL from 2002-2008 before becoming an assistant to Schmid. 

“I drafted him and I felt really guilty for a long time because I stopped him going to college," former Sounders boss Alan Hinton, who brought Schmetzer to Seattle, said. "I drafted him as a high school player and I stopped him from going to college for a lot of years, but I don’t feel bad anymore. I’m very happy because he went to the university of life and university of soccer." 

Schmetzer is a Seattle soccer lifer who got more out of the Sounders in four months than anyone expected him to. With the Sounders close to the Western Conference doormat, Schmetzer willed the club back to a playoff spot—and eventually to the title—without Clint Dempsey, who has been out of the lineup since August with an irregular heartbeat.

"I think the base was always there," Schmetzer said. "They found a way to win, a way to persevere in tough situations." 

Winning the 2016 MLS Cup isn't the conclusion of an eight-year journey, it's just another massive step in making the club as great as it can be. 

“I’m so happy I’m here because this is what we’ve always wanted Seattle to become," Hinton said. "To win in the eighth year of operation is marvelous. We’ve made the playoffs in every year. We’re the biggest club in Major League Soccer and we’re about to get bigger." 

   

Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter; @JTansey90