Wow! After 11 months of this rollercoaster season, filled with often turbulent and continuously unpredictable results, your Seattle Sounders emerged victorious on the last day versus Toronto FC. A cagey 0-0 draw was followed by extra time in which both teams created chances, but it was the heroic defense of the away side that prevailed against the high octane attack from the hosts. The penalty shootout seemed fitting after watching both teams trade blows for 120 minutes. A plucky group of Sounders, left for dead mid-season, somehow, improbably, rose to the top and will reign as champions in 2017 after winning in PKs.
About these ratings: I tried to continue the season-long dedication to “fair” ratings. But let’s face it; we won MLS cup on the road. Every player on this team worked hard and deserved an above-MLS-average rating, and a few had their best games of the season.
Stefan Frei – 10 (MOTM) | Community – 9.8 (MOTM)
This is the standard for all keeper ratings in the future, because that was what a near-perfect game at goalie looks like.
It started in the 2nd minute with Jozy Altidore getting a dangerous look. Even though Jozy put his shot wide, I was impressed with Frei’s range and coverage of the post. Toronto pressed relentlessly, and Stefan alertly punched away an olimpico attempt by Michael Bradley in the 5th. After organizing the defense in front of him only an Altidore header over Jones in the 30th forced a diving lunge save from Frei.
The second half brought more sustained Toronto pressure, but Frei rose to the challenge – first diving bravely in traffic to catch a corner kick in the 67th before punching a similarly dangerous free kick to safety five minutes later. In the 92nd minute he made a wonderful save (and paid for it), punching away a corner kick that was destined to reach Altidore. When he wasn’t making acrobatic saves, Stefan did a stellar job in leading the defense, from perfectly set up walls to careful positioning which allowed only half chances towards goal.
Then there was THE SAVE. Everyone has seen it at least 50 times. His footwork is impeccable, his reach astounding, and the impact on this franchise of that moment is astronomical. Frei simply wasn’t going to be beat. Training, muscle memory, and instinct all combined to give him one moment to shine. Good keepers make saves, great keepers make saves they aren't supposed to, and legendary keepers make saves no one should. This was legendary. The mental toughness alone necessary to stay that in tune in the 108th minute is outrageous.
Every save on the evening was clean, he didn’t bobble balls out to be chances for trailing attackers, he pushed everything wide and out of danger, and when asked to step up and win a trophy he did so. Frei went the right way on almost every PK and saved one. He was everything.
Joevin Jones – 8 | Community – 7.3
Prior to the match, I thought Jones was going to have a huge game, and while he never quite took over offensively, Joevin put in a very strong performance. The entire defense was very solid on the evening: holding a Toronto squad scoreless after they’d made 22 goals in their previous six games.
Jones was quiet in the first half, choosing to stay home and help defensively more than bomb forward to attack Toronto. While that helped Seattle’s defense stay compact in the back, it also meant that his 5th minute counter attack up the wing was a rarity. It wasn't until the last minute of the half that Joevin was again forward, this time finding a cutback pass that was dangerous.
In the second half Seattle shifted to get Jones more involved, and we saw him on a few more break outs. After eating Beitashour 1v1 on defense in the 53rd he continued into the attack, naturally floating to the right wing of all places to support the offense. After trading a great defensive recovery on Giovinco, Joevin was agains attacking in the 80th, this time earning a free kick in a great spot. In extra time, an intelligent header back to Frei impressed me for control after a nervy moment, and his 1v1 defense against the speedy (and fresh) Tosaint Ricketts in the 105th was superb. Nothing was as impressive as his penalty take, though, an inch-perfect rocket to the upper 90 stroked with such power and precision that I doubt any keeper (sans maybe Frei) could have saved it.
Chad Marshall – 8 | Community – 8.2
As one of the few Sounders with MLS Championship experience, Marshall showed zero nerves, getting right to the chore of dealing with both the battering ram of Altidore and the finesse of Sebastian Giovinco.
Marshall rarely put a foot wrong after starting out shaky as Altidore bodied him up and won a longball that he chested down to Gio shortly after the initial kickoff. After peeling away, Jozy put strong shot toward goal. Other than that and a 52nd minute mis-clear that went right to Giovinco, Marshall was a rock. He had seven interceptions and three clearances and a tidy 82% completion rate from a backline that was under constant pressure from Toronto.
Chad was clearly up to the task of playing Altidore, using his strength at least six times to dominate the Toronto striker in 1v1 situations. When Jozy did manage to control a ball, he was ushered unceremoniously backwards and away from danger. There isn’t another player in the league as skilled at using his size horizontally as well as Marshall, and he showed this skill first in the 49th and again in the 119th. Both times his lunging slide tackles cut off half of the goal and forced first, a side- net shot and second, a savable attempt for Frei. It is hard to call anything Marshall does “underrated” but it’s a huge benefit to the defense to force predictability from opponents and he does this consistently.
Roman Torres – 9 | Community – 8.7
Roman was outstanding against Toronto and played his best game as a Sounder. Whether it was tracking Gio into the Toronto half, being a physical presence that refused to bend under duress, or even sneaking forward on offense a few times, Roman was a giant figure in this match. He completely blew up the stat book with seven clearances, six interceptions, four tackles and OH yeah, he crushed the game winning PK.
Early on Torres was physical with both forwards, using his size and tremendous agility to beat Toronto players to the ball on multiple occasions. He was never beaten in the air, and completely dominated any of the 32 crosses attempted that came near him. Roman didn't have the passing efficiency that his central partner did, and chose to clear long most the time. This was the safe method, and while at times he gave up possession this way he also found a slick pass forward to Valdez in the 34th for one of the best SSFC chances of the half. He also found himself as a playmaker once, collecting a ball on the wing after a corner and putting in a cross that earned a valuable corner kick.
Roman got stronger as the match wore on, and I especially appreciated him absolutely sticking Will Johnson in the 82nd. He was all over in the extra time, clearing attempt after attempt as Toronto threw bodies forward. In the 112th minute Torres had a chance to win the game after a ball squirted through to him on the back post but his touch was a little strong and ended up in the hands of keeper Clint Irwin. Torres lost Altidore on an early corner kick and slid too early in minute 108 which contributed to “THE SAVE,” but who cares? He was magnificent in defense.
This man who had battled all night on the backline was thrust into the spotlight during the shootout and did not disappoint. Everyone was surprised to see Torres stride forward for the 6th PK, but he calmly placed the ball on the spot and shot true. What an amazing performance.
Tyrone Mears – 7 | Community – 6.8
Tyrone came to play in the final. Obviously coached to stay home, Mears continually tucked inside and supported Torres while also being very aware of the forward runs of Steven Beitashour down his wing. Mears could have gone forward more to take advantage of the space afforded him on the right, but as coach Schmetzer stated after the game, Toronto’s relentless attack really changed how they played and Mears staying home looked to be a result.
When he did get forward Mears had mixed results. A chunked cross in the 11th and a cutback shot that sailed harmlessly out for a goal kick late were rough, but just pushing forward opened options for the Seattle attack and each time he pushed good things happened for Seattle, including one of the few key passes on the night. This was very infrequent though, and the rest of the match he was excellently playing shut-down outside back. With both giants going forward for set pieces Tyrone was often back to support and he showed off his still above-average pace in the 76th, coming from nowhere to stop a Giovinco break.
Mears consistently cleared pressure from the middle by tucking inside and he was very good at defending set pieces. This was a strong game by a player who followed the game plan perfectly and while there weren’t many flashy moments for Tyrone, he failed to put a foot wrong on defense all night.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.5
Roldan was consistent against Toronto, staying home and connected to Alonso while supporting the width and the attacking wide players. The midfield trio of Roldan, Alonso, and Lodeiro combined for over 300 of the Sounders’ 479 touches in the final, and Cristian was very tidy with possession.
Like the wingbacks, Roldan was either coached to stay home more or forced into the role due to an overwhelming Toronto midfield push. The composure of this young player was impressive, and Cristian took smart, concise angles that allowed him to maintain proper shape for the duration of the game. When in possession like in the 20th minute, his tight control allowed him time to find Valdez and alleviate pressure. In a 15 minute stretch I noted Roldan man-marking Giovinco all the way across the goal 1v1 and winning a ball before muscling off twice his size Altidore and winning a foul.
There wasn't much chance for Roldan to get forward, but he did manage a beautiful left footed lift pass over the top in the 85th that perfectly put Nico into the box. His flashiest play may have resulted in a rough no-call, but in the 115th Roldan reached deep into the energy reserves to make a beast mode coast-to-coast run. He picked the ball up in his own penalty area, shrugged off 3-4 defenders along the way to a SIXTY-yard charge forward. Nothing came of it, but that late in the match when confronted with opponents’ fresh legs, his heart was magical.
Osvaldo Alonso – 9 | Community – 8.3
Alonso was a warrior. Susie said it well here: http://www.sounderatheart.com/2016/12/12/13920796/osvaldo-alonso-mls-cup-performance-seattle-sounders, but I will reiterate how impressive his performance was. If you didn't know he was hurt you might not have noticed a slight limp here, or a wince there, as Ozzie gutted through 120 minutes of hell for his team.
Fittingly it was Alonso who, 30 seconds into the game, sprinted to the wing to help with Altidore and let him know that not only was he there, he was sticking around. I marked Alonso down for a missed tackle and a slip, but those were the only times I saw him put a foot wrong.
Ozzie was everywhere, and in the 52nd when Marshall had a slight misplay it was Alonso who came from nowhere for a recovery. He gobbled up Osorio minutes later. Although Toronto did a stellar job of cutting off half the field, and often there were few options to open the field via switching passes, Alonso worked around that in the 63rd by splitting the defense open wide with a surging 30-yard dribble. Two minutes later he was putting a perfect one touch pass to Nico who looked for Morris through.
Somehow Ozzie just kept improving, becoming increasingly effective as the game wore on. He dispossessed two DPs back to back by stealing the ball first from Michael Bradley in the 70th and then nicking an errant trap from Altidore moments later. An 88th minute defensive play as a safety valve stopped a potential 2v1 chance for Toronto and Ozzie ushered Gio off the field unceremoniously in the 102nd, destroying him for the 878th time in the match. He did take a nasty tackle right before the shootout. Overall, Ozzie was essential to Seattle’s success.
Erik Friberg -- 7 | Community – 6.1 (off 66’)
I was happy with Friberg in the final. I wasn’t sure how coach would decide to go with the winger position, but the positional capabilities of our favorite Swede were essential to the entirety of the Seattle defensive effort. Erik didn’t have a single negative mark on my sheet and did so many little things that helped us. He only touched the ball 31 times which is quite low, but he made up for that with a number of great defensive actions.
In the 25th minute it was Friberg who beat Altidore to a cross and shouldered him legally off the ball. A few minutes later Erik’s positioning stopped a central attack and his great slide tackle in the 31st stopped a Giovinco break. While mainly defensive, Friberg did get into the attack some but was unable to make anything of his biggest chance, a charge into the box to receive a Valdez pass. Another time Erik won a high ball in the box vs. former Sounder Eriq Zavaleta and controlled possession deep in the attack for Seattle. These moments were very rare; mostly Friberg focused on helping the central defensive shape and did an excellent job taking pressure off the middle of the pitch.
Jordan Morris – 6 | Community – 6.4 (off 108’)
I would guess Morris was feeling a combination of ailments on Saturday, but he gritted out a 108-minute appearance in which he was mainly a decoy used to keep the Toronto defense somewhat honest on his wing. Jordan struggled to find space versus the opponents and had trouble integrating himself into the game (28 touches).
In the 12th minute we saw Jordan sprinting forward, trying to stretch his legs and utilizing his great pace. Later he finally found possession with space to operate but looked up to see himself against four defenders. He tried vainly to put a ball into the box but it missed both Valdez and Lodeiro. Another time Morris surged forward down the left sideline past both Armando Cooper and Bradley, only to have Zavaleta come across and dispossess him.
This triple-teaming was very difficult for Morris to adjust to, and he drifted centrally to try to get touches. He continued to push the issue late in the second half, and his pace almost forced multiple mistakes on the backline and kept Toronto on their heels as Seattle managed to get numbers forward more frequently. Jordan earned a corner in the 86th with some textbook holdup play; he chested the ball down and perfectly turned on Drew Moor. I would have liked to see Morris get more chances to change the game, but he was quiet and struggled to find space. He missed a wide open Ivanschitz through on goal after a hold up a few moments before being subbed off injured in the 108th.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 7 | Community – 7.1
There was a narrative that Nico played badly in this game and on the re-watch that's a shortsighted view of his play. True, he didn’t dominate or have many shots or game opening plays, but he did some things exceptionally well. Chased by three or more defenders, Nico was on the receiving end of five called fouls while tirelessly covering the entire field. He led Seattle with 111 touches and it's no coincidence that Toronto’s first two subs were both midfielders who had been chasing Lodeiro around all night.
Nico doesn’t get enough credit for his defensive work rate, which is exceptional for a player of his attacking pedigree. It was his pressure in the 11th minute that resulted in Mears getting forward for one of his few overlapping attacks. He bookended a steal coming from the attack in the 60th minute with two free kicks earned in deep offensive positions. In the 65th Nico just missed putting Morris through with a first-time ball from a great Alonso pass.
After Fernandez and Ivanschitz were subbed on Nico was more effective, finding space with two more attack-minded players pulling defenders from him. In the 82nd he released Mears up the wing into a huge hole that hadn’t been effectively attacked all night by Seattle. Like many other Sounders, Nico didn't drop off in the extra periods at all, continuing to get touches and look for space.
Lodeiro was the first Sounder whose PK miss would have cost Seattle the title and Nico calmly strode to the spot and kept his team in it with a near-perfect upper corner penalty amidst all that pressure.
Nelson Haedo Valdez – 6 | Community – 6.3 (off 73’)
Nelson was unable to reproduce the fantastic results of prior rounds in the playoffs, but he was still somewhat effective in relieving pressure from a Sounders team that was on its heels early. There is no questioning his heart, and he bravely gave his team 73 minutes of getting battered by multiple center backs on nearly every run up field.
Valdez was enormous in the air, winning a whopping six aerials, double anyone else on the team. In fact, it was his 5th minute defensive header that started the first Sounders offensive break. This dedication to defense was great to see. A minute later he was handing out some “physical play” inadvertently kicking Drew Moor in a sensitive area while chasing an over the top pass. (NVWKYITD).
It was great to see Valdez so active early, and he was one of the few Sounders who came out very strong in the first half. He put Nico into space in the 10th and followed that up with a great play checking to the ball before spraying it wide to open the field. A similar play happened in the 34th, this time checking to a great searching ball from Torres and laying it off to a Friberg run into the box.
Nelson didn’t have lots of space to maneuver, but he consistently made positive runs and it was important to have him up front banging on their back three to try to keep Bradley from being involved vertically. This was effective and a high number of Bradley’s passes were horizontal. I really liked seeing Valdez working hard to cut off half the field and make the buildup from Toronto predictable.
Alvaro Fernandez – 6 | Community – 5.6 (on 66’)
Flaco started off on a wing and soon was involved defensively, blocking a Giovinco shot in the 73rd, before moving into a more central roving role that allowed Nico to drift to the width. In the 78th he found himself in an attacking central area and won a dangerous free kick. Late in the second half Fernandez forced a misclearance from Altidore that went straight to Morris who was afforded great forward position. It should be noted that Seattle attacked much better as soon as both Flaco and AI were subbed on.
No one looked more happy/relieved to see Torres score the deciding PK than Alvaro, and that's likely because he took by far the poorest penalty from the away side.
Andreas Ivanschitz -- 6 | Community – 6.2 (on 73’)
Andreas came on late in the second half and attempted to add some up tempo, direct play for the Sounders. He made a great run in the 76th even going as far as to point where he wanted the ball but didn't receive it. He was also through in the 101st without a pass.
Twice AI was afforded the opportunity to stand over a free kick and he didn't disappoint, delivering perfect passes in the 81st and 100th minutes. A nifty piece of dribbling created this second dead ball.
When called to take the second penalty he converted, making up for a saved try last season.
Brad Evans -- 6 | Community –6.6 (on 108’)
Evans didn’t play much, but he got forward for a cross and earned a corner in the 110th. His angled run and cross two minutes later almost found its way to Torres on the back post for a game winner.
Leading off the spot kicks for Seattle (and no doubt remembering last year being unable to represent his team during penalties), Brad easily converted his PK.
Alan Kelly – 7 | Community – 6.7
Kelly was strong in the final, and quickly established control of the game. His positioning all night was stellar and he was assertive in making calls.
I thought Kelly let Valdez off the hook when his high boot caught Moor, but I was even more surprised to see Moor’s immediate and deliberate ensuing foul on Nelson go uncarded. There were a few times when Armando Cooper was allowed to destroy the midfield without penalty, including a five-minute period where he made no play on the ball in hacking Alonso, quickly followed by a foul on Morris and finishing off another on Valdez. His actions were even more upsetting as this third foul should have resulted in a penalty kick. On this 20th minute free kick Cooper sized up Valdez and turned and laid a hip into him, laying Nelson out and preventing him from attacking a header, all within the box.
There was another shout for a Seattle penalty in extra time, when Will Johnson fouled Ivanschitz, but I thought this less clear-cut than the first. An issue with allowing as much contact as he was affording the Toronto midfielders was the quick yellow card given to Chad Marshall in the 47th minute on his only recorded foul of the game seemed completely out of place.
Other than this, Kelly was very good in interpreting plays, and he repeatedly allowed legal shoulder challenges and ignored dives from both teams trying to gain an advantage. The ref showed restraint to yellow card a high arm from Jones in the 71st, perhaps considering that Valdez was down on the field hurt and Beitashour was making a complete meal out of the contact. The yellow shown to Michael Bradley was direct and appropriate, and multiple times advantage was played perfectly.
I thought that Roldan may have earned a foul on his marauding rampage up the field vs the entire Toronto team in the 115th but this is a call for the AR and Kelly deferred. It was refreshing to have a game where the referees were not a big part of the story, and the shootout was handled quickly and professionally.
TORONTO FC MOTM:
Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley were neck-and-neck for the best player on the night for Toronto, with Bradley edging out Jozy by 17 of 550 votes.
What a season. After that ghastly KC game we said “HAY FE” and here we are champs a few months later. A ton of hard work, dedication, faith in each other, skill, luck, and “it's our time” went into this crazy season. I will do a breakdown post of each individual player’s ratings in the upcoming weeks. I’m supremely excited about our possibility for improvement next year, but until then let’s all just enjoy this feeling! I appreciate each and every one of you who has been here to comment and contribute to the rating posts; it's a labor of love that is easier and more fun with your support and friendship. So, thanks, and HOLY SHIT WE ARE MLS CUP CHAMPIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!