DC United proudly display the word "tradition" on their back collars. There isn't another MLS club that could do so. They have earned it. There was an idea that they carry 12 trophies means that they deserve the 13th and that expansion franchises will never deserve respect propagated on the net, somewhat based on this tradition concept.
But they forgot a key element.
Tradition is earned through victory on the field of play.
Last night, Seattle Sounders FC started what they hope to become a tradition. They won a trophy.
It wasn't because their front office wanted to host the Final more. It wasn't because they chartered a plane and flew every player out, regardless of status for the match.
It was because of players. It was because of Kasey Keller in the pipes. It was because of two fill-in centerbacks standing in front of him. It was because of James Riley's best defensive game in the Green-Blue-Green.
It was because of a small tactical adjustment and a unique starting lineup by Sigi Schmid. Maybe it was because I wanted so badly to see it, but I thought I saw the 4-3-3.
Vagenas was certainly a deep lying midfielder. Zakuani, Ljungberg and Montero stretched across the front, matching up perfectly with the 3 defenders in DC United 3-5-2. Alonso through his defense acumen and Seb Le Toux through his work rate controlled the central midfield.
In the first half the United attacks that threatened primarily came from set-plays, generally handled by the back four with Keller more than capably stopping what came his way. The DC squad had to either punt, or get their forwards the ball at the centerline. It was a stop-and-go method of attack, it particularly stopped when it encountered Alonso. He could then passback to Vagenas who could distribute forward, or to the rushing Leo Gonzalez and James Riley.
We saw flow again offensively from the Sounders. Completed on target passes were the norm throughout the pitch. Box-to-box took only a few seconds, and DC United was faced with waves of Green. Only Josh Wicks prevented the half time score from being 2-nil or worse. An average keeper on an average night would have been beaten. Wicks wasn't average in the first half. He was as good a keeper as the league has.
Then the defining moment of the match occurred.
He got beat. He got angry. He lashed out.
The right call was made, and Seattle was up by 1 (goal and man) with 20+ minutes to go. They could bunker.
They didn't. There was no soccer version of the prevent defense. They continued to play their game. The waves of offense didn't stop. Seattle realized that its best defense is quality possession and continuing threats to the opposition keeper. They kept up ball pressure in all thirds of the pitch - especially one Sebastien Le Toux.
He pressured; he ground it out; he met his forward mate of two years with a great cut across the 6-yard box. The French Connection was called into Open Cup service once again.
While United made it interesting in the end, with a late rally, the game was decided by Sounders 2.5 (USL). Version 3.0 (MLS) earned its first trophy. They have tasted their first Cup. A handy little speech to have in pocket for Sigi and staff during the next 6 matches.
Last night we saw something generational.
MLS 1.0 ceded ground to MLS 3.0
Sounders 3.0 scored the first goal in play of two heading to Europe in their future with the connector being one who came here to end a career while still a solid talent.
Sounders 2.5 had the game winners.
Today, Seattle Sounders FC are Champions. They didn't do it with the strongest lineup "taking the match more seriously" than their opposition.
They did it with 7 starters, 2 rotationals, 1 sub and 1 reserve to start the match. Later a reserve and a sub entered the game. It wasn't the most talented line-up that could have entered the game.
It was the one that WON it.