After a dominant run through the Western Conference playoffs, it would have been great to see the Seattle Sounders play spectacularly and win a second straight MLS Cup. It would have been okay to see the team perform decently and fight for a chance to win. Instead, I didn’t recognize the version of the Sounders that showed up, went through the motions, and got thoroughly played off the field. This year’s version of Toronto FC had their way with the hapless Sounders for a majority of the game, both creating strong chances and preventing Seattle from generating any real momentum. The 2-0 score line is a bit misleading, both because Toronto only had a single goal until the last 30 seconds of the match and because they likely deserved four more.
This game was a soul-crushing defeat. It was a perfect storm of Toronto playing great, and Seattle having a complete meltdown, devoid of virtually any quality play from players who under-performed nearly across the board. The lack of adjustment from a veteran team that was getting so easily handled was downright embarrassing, and it’s a shame that a great season will be remembered for one awful performance.
Stefan Frei – 10 (MOTM) | Community – 9.1 (MOTM)
While his teammates were still asleep, Frei was playing soccer, and playing pretty damn well. Asked to stand on his head in goal and parry shot after shot, Stef did so, holding down the fort with a spectacular exhibition of big game goaltending. He ended the game with two goals against, but he prevented 19/20 shots from scoring in the first 93 minutes and gave Seattle every possible chance to stay in the game. Frei was clearly up for a match of this magnitude.
In the first half Stefan was peppered with a variety of shots, and he was stellar in not just stopping them, but preventing any rebounds. After an 8th minute save on a soft Sebastian Giovinco shot, he showed off his feet a minute later, clearing easily. Frei was a consistent outlet for the overwhelmed defense, presenting a safe option for drop passes and often offering help. In the 10th minute Stef made a huge save on a broken play that led to Jonathan Osorio getting a free volley on frame. Less than a minute later another defensive mistake allowed Giovinco in, only to be stuffed by perfect positioning of the Sounders keeper. Stef was saving everything, including an offsides shot from Morrow in the 16th, and a dangerous knuckling shot in the 23rd from Giovinco. Another knuckling shot from Marky Delgado was cleanly saved in the 35th and Frei finished off a spectacular half with a diving parry in the 41st on a Victor Vazquez shot. This was the best half of goalkeeping I saw in this league all year, and it wasn’t particularly close.
In the second half Frei was again dominant early, catching crosses and navigating his beleaguered defenders into place as they withstood nearly constant attacks. Every time Toronto thought they had taken the lead their shots were denied by the indomitable Frei, who pushed aside a volley from Michael Bradley in the 60th and denied Giovinco yet again in the 64th after the Italian DP found himself wide open. It’s too bad that Jozy Altidore scored an offsides goal moments later, as Frei was nearly unbreakable. While Toronto dominated this game and deserved to win, Frei was vastly better than last season’s finale, and he nearly dragged his team to another title on his will alone.
Joevin Jones – 3 | Community – 5.0 (off 91’)
One of the few changes Coach Schmetzer made to his squad was to convert winger Jones back into wingback Jones, and this proved to be a disaster. Jones connected on 87% of his passes, but he had very few defensive actions and offered an uncharacteristic lack of offensive impetus. I understand why Jones was pushed back and it made sense, but he was just awful and failed to make this move useful.
In the first minute Jones overlapped nicely, and showed exactly what he could offer for width in behind Toronto’s diamond formation. His pace and delivery were immediately dangerous. But, inexplicably, he didn’t repeat this with any regularity for the remainder of the match. Maybe it was because Toronto immediately attacked behind where he failed to recover and he was worried about counters, but, for whatever reason, Jones was a non-factor as a wide attacking player, something Seattle sorely needed. It was clear that Seattle desperately needed a wide presence, and that Jones refused to offer it.
Since he wasn’t an attacking force, at least Jones was a rock-solid stay-at-home defender, right? Nope. In the 11th minute he left Giovinco unmarked on the back post, and after being beat a minute later made zero effort to recover, calmly walking behind the play as Marshall gave enormous effort to get across and clear the ball. Jones managed a weak outside-of-the-foot shot in the 30th minute that was notable as a “shot on goal”, which is apparently a Herculean feat in a final. Joevin showed no inclination whatsoever to test the Toronto defense with his excellent attacking skillset, continually turning back and acting as passive observer in his final MLS match.
In the second half Jones continued to either chunk the ball forward to no one, or to turn and shield the ball and pass back to Marshall or Frei. In the 62nd he did the latter, however he was surrounded and dispossessed, leading to a great chance and momentum for Toronto. Two minutes later he showed the “ole” defense and jogged back as Giovinco got an open shot. Jones lost track of Altidore on the game winning goal, but recovered fairly well defensively — I just don’t know why he slowed up at the end, allowing Jozy a shot that a shoulder tackle should have prevented. After the goal Jones wasn’t working very hard, kicking aimless balls forward and offering a weak cross in the 71st. I was astounded at the complete lack of aggression from Jones, especially in a game that needed exactly that. It looked like he was already on the plane to Germany.
Chad Marshall – 6 | Community – 5.8
Seattle lost this game in dominant fashion, but it wasn’t because of Marshall. He may have only had two interceptions and five clearances, but his 91% passing was second-best on the team, and he was one of the main reasons that Frei was able to keep the game close. Nearly every time Toronto got a shot off, they had to avoid Marshall’s giant frame lurching into their view and cutting off half the goal, which gave Stefan at least a chance to save.
Chad still struggled a few times in this game, notably early when trying to figure out how to work with Jones on his left. In the first minute he was caught too wide trying to support the gap Jones’ forward run made, and this badly exposed him. When given the option to use Frei, Chad smartly did so, utilizing the extra player in an attempt to keep some possession for the good guys. After bodying Altidore in the 10th, in the 11th Chad was beat by a diagonal ball that somehow made it all the way across field to Giovinco, who had completely eluded Joevin on the back side. Marshall charged back to combine with Frei and his recovery slide forced the Toronto star to shoot wide. The rest of the half was more of the same, with Marshall continually helping to put out fires on all sides as Seattle held on by a thread.
The second half saw an uncharacteristic lack of adjustment from Seattle, which meant more of the same desperation defense. Marshall was in the middle of it all, across to defend Gio in the 55th and then again on Steven Beitashour in the 79th when Jones disappeared. Even desperately pushed up as a target at the end of the game, it was telling that as Toronto scored the game-sealing 94th minute goal, there’s Chad Marshall, off a 90-yard sprint, nearly preventing it. Marshall was busting his ass, showing the kind of effort that at times was lacking from teammates.
Roman Torres – 5 | Community – 5.7
After taking a game off due to yellow cards, Torres showed up to the final rested and in good spirits. His jovial disposition quickly changed as Toronto put massive pressure on the Seattle defense and he was forced to make one desperation play after another. Roman ended with a ridiculous 13 clearances, often of the “get it the heck out of here” variety. Usually great in passing lanes, Torres didn’t record a single interception, instead often being bodied up by Altidore with mixed results.
Early on Roman slid across to help the left side of the defense, conceding a 2nd minute corner. His pressure a minute later helped the offense get possession and he was able to limit the effectiveness of Jozy posting up as a point man for most of the match. Torres wasn’t very clean on the ball at times, and his passing and turnovers led to more than one Toronto counter attack right back at the defense. He also was caught high and wide too often in the first half.
In the second half Torres won every header, dominating the air, but struggled to deal with the pace and elusiveness of the opponent attackers. Toronto consistently worked the ball through the gaps around and behind him, and they had much success combining around his often poor positioning. It looked to me that he nearly conceded his second PK against Altidore this season in the 64th, following through on a tackle that was inviting a dive from Jozy. Three minutes later Roman was caught very wide, marking a nice space of grass while Altidore was sort of beating the offsides trap and scoring behind him. A few minutes later one of Torres’ defensive headers went directly to Vazquez, and Seattle was lucky to not be penalized for this error. Roman was also terrible at getting the ball forward and connecting to teammates, which exacerbated the Sounders’ midfield struggles.
Kelvin Leerdam – 4 | Community – 5.9
It was a bad time for Leerdam to have his worst game as a Sounder. He did provide a whopping two key passes, which tied him for the team lead, but his 73% passing indicates his inability to combine with anyone on his team going forward, which is completely out of character for Leerdam. His 0/7 crossing was a telling statistic, both because he was unusually inaccurate and that he settled for that many hopeful crosses, which isn’t something we have seen from him.
In the 2nd minute Kelvin fell asleep on the back post after a corner kick, with Drew Moor nearly scoring. Similar to Jones, Leerdam was effective getting forward early and his 4th minute deflected shross nearly scored, earning a corner. After that initial success, though, Seattle was passive on both wings and paid dearly for it. In Leerdam’s case, he was getting perpetually beat by Justin Morrow, starting in the 14th. In this instance, a beautiful slide tackle saved Kelvin, but he needed a fortuitous offsides call two minutes later to save him as Morrow again got in behind. In the 22nd it was Giovinco’s turn to get in behind after Kelvin had just made a nice overlap, but the Toronto shot was weak. In the 29th he made a rare run upfield with a beautiful weaving dribble that cut the Toronto defense asunder, but a bad decision to pass to Dempsey late and offsides killed the play.
The second half was a complete mess. Matched up multiple times on offense against Morrow, the Sounders right back failed to beat his opponent, settling for a 54th minute shot into the stands on one instance. A few minutes later Leerdam recovered well but nearly conceded a penalty against Morrow in the box on what turned out to be a great no-call. Another 1v1 with Morrow in the 59th saw the Seattle player lose, and for the first time this season, we saw someone completely shut down our right back. Giovinco nearly scored in the 64th as Leerdam failed to close him down, and Kelvin was nowhere to be found when Toronto scored their first. Leerdam lost another 71st minute marking job on the backside, but at that point he just looked frustrated and out of ideas. I was skeptical of Morrow as the best left back in the league, but he completely owned Leerdam on the night and clearly won their 1v1 matchups.
Cristian Roldan – 5 | Community – 5.0
I thought this was going to be a coming out game for Roldan; that for sure didn’t happen. While he didn’t dominate, he wasn’t as bad on second watch as I initially thought. He did many little things that helped Seattle stay in the game, while being completely overrun by superior midfield numbers from Toronto. Everything was muted from Roldan in this game — his 79% passing was low, his one tackle and single interception very low, and his seven clearances really high. This shows a player that was constantly under pressure, playing very deep, and trying to help a beleaguered defense survive.
I noticed early that Cristian wasn’t pressing the ball, and this was very ineffective and strange. Instead of utilizing Roldan’s ball winning and tackling ability — the best tackler in the league this year — Roldan was dropped off defensively, rarely trying to win back possession when it was lost around him. When Cristian was proactive and physical, like in the 14th minute versus Gio, he was hugely effective, destroying the Toronto forward and bringing Seattle the ball in possession. Moments later he earned midfield possession and nearly connected with Dempsey over the top in the 25th for a brief glimmer of offense. There was no connection between Roldan and Svensson or Roldan and the wings, leading to a lot of defense by positioning and zero defense by possession.
Roldan made a great play defensively in the 53rd and controlled the ball nicely, only to have his bad pass forward stolen. This was a microcosm of the problems on the team, where any glimmer of positive play was consistently snuffed out by errant passing. Cristian dominated Giovinco in the 78th and 90th (second time in the box) and had flashes of great play, but there was no cohesion from the midfield and with a compact field and Toronto carrying a numbers advantage, Roldan was constantly forced into desperation plays.
Gustav Svensson – 4 | Community – 4.8
While Roldan at least looked functional, Svensson was lost for a majority of the game. Asking two midfielders to cope with the diamond overload as well as the forwards dropping into the hole behind them was a big responsibility, but the Goose looked like he had never seen this formation before. His stats were decent, with near 90% passing and multiple defensive actions, but he was very ineffective, especially in possession. Another player who played one of his worst games of the year, Svensson failed to connect anything going forward, and repeatedly lost marks in behind him.
In the 7th minute it was clear that Gustav was going to struggle with the Toronto movement, as he was slow to track a crossing run. After a nice 12th minute recovery run in behind the lost Jones, Svensson made a huge mistake diving in and missing in midfield, which necessitated a Roldan intervention. Gustav continually lost shape in the middle, repeating this mistake against Bradley in the 23rd. When the Sounders midfield lost containment, Toronto was quick to overwhelm the fullbacks. In the 41st minute Goose failed to close Vazquez, and ended an awful half with a pass straight out of bounds.
The second half was even more of a struggle. Repeatedly put in tough positions by teammates, Svensson was part of the extremely overwhelmed midfield, forced to foul at times after errant passes from Bruin and contributing lax touches that were recycled into Toronto attacks. In the 52nd minute Gustav looked tired, fouling Giovinco in a bad spot. When the first goal was being scored Svensson was so far pushed out of shape that he had zero hope of helping deny Altidore. In the 70th he stepped to the ball late and allowed an easy pass in behind. Svensson worked really hard this game, but he looked tired and completely disconnected from Roldan, as they were continually overrun by Toronto’s mids.
Victor Rodriguez – 4 | Community – 4.3 (Off 71’)
Thought by many to be the X factor of the final, V-Rod had played so well that Coach Schmetzer was tempted into starting him. This made a lot of sense, allowing Seattle to combine high up the field, but when Toronto added an extra defender and pinched their wing players in, Rodriguez was unable to utilize wide spaces in attack. He connected on 90% of his passes, but had only 29 total and failed to ever be integrated into the game. He had barely any defensive actions, and was unsuccessful in either helping Jones on defense or releasing his outside back up the field.
This was a substandard disappearing act from a player who can play so much better. His first touch in the 7th minute saw Rodriguez easily shoved off the ball. In the 19th minute V-Rod got one of his very few defensive actions, helping the tumultuous left side briefly. It’s telling that — other than failing to win a tackle in the 35th and watching Marky Delgado get a shot off behind him a minute later — there were no notable first half actions by Victor. He made a deep forward run right before half but lost the ball as this play fizzled out. He simply faded into a non factor in this game.
The second half was not much better for Seattle, and again Rodriguez was conspicuously absent. He was unable to connect with anyone around him, and seemed particularly thrown off by Jones’ erratic positioning and movement. After being beat by Morrow in the 48th V-Rod quietly ran around for another 20 minutes before subbing off after the first goal. I thought he worked hard and perhaps with a few things going differently might have been a factor, but without any width in Seattle’s attack, Rodriguez was left out to dry; as a force multiplier, he only amplified the struggles of those around him.
Clint Dempsey – 6 | Community – 4.7
Say what you want about Clint Dempsey, but he was often the only offensive player who looked ready for the pressure of the final. He completed 91% of his passes, was the only Sounder with more than one shot (four) and had more successful tackles than V-Rod, Goose, and Nico combined. Dempsey was continually trying to urge Seattle out of its shell, but without anyone stretching the field in either direction this was to no avail.
With Seattle under immense pressure all match, it was Dempsey in the 6th and 14th minutes who alleviated pressure, as one of the only players who seemed comfortable on the ball. A minute later his defensive hustle (!) earned possession and a brief Sounders attack. In the 22nd he forced the reluctant Leerdam into the attack as a wide option in massive space. Three minutes later Clint himself dove vertically and nearly latched onto a clever Roldan pass, only to have Toronto keeper Alex Bono exit the box and head clear. At times a lonely Dempsey was the only Sounder active in the area, making slashing runs without any resulting pass.
Seattle came out and banged its face against Toronto without many tactical changes in the second half, which proved to be a mistake. Frustrated with the lack of movement around him, Clint attempted a long hopeful shot in the 49th that was easily saved. Five minutes later it was Dempsey’s help on Bradley in the midfield which saw Seattle win the ball and immediately have its best attack of the half. It’s not Clint’s game to harry the opposing defensive mids, but with Dempsey in the center of the field, he needed to occupy Bradley more, instead of allowing the Toronto player to dictate the game, and this play showed exactly why. One of Seattle’s best attacks came on a quick counter through Dempsey via a deft cherry-pick in the 61st, only to see Chris Mavinga come over and stop the play with a tremendous tackle. Late in the game with Seattle pressing hard, Clint had a nice move to find Nico in the box on an over the top flick, and an overhead try off a scramble just wasn’t to be.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 4 | Community – 3.9
Like Leerdam, Nico picked a terrible time to have his worst game as a Sounder. His usually stellar touch was nonexistent, resulting in something like eight turnovers (honestly, I lost count). The usually highly active midfielder earned zero statistical defensive actions. Nico didn’t complete a single cross. Lodeiro usually dominates the ball, yet had only the seventh most touches on the field, which is unheard of. The Sounder DP was almost completely neutralized by a combination of good Toronto play and poor Nico Lodeiro play. Throughout all his struggles he did manage a team-high-tying two key passes.
In the 4th minute Nico put his corner short, something that is infuriating to keep writing. Five minutes later he fumbled away possession with a poor touch and conceded a corner due to his error. It was horrifying to watch this world class player completely whiff on a regular drop pass for a turnover in the 14th and take a lousy touch that was instantly stolen a minute later. After a poor pass he was completely juked out of his shoes by Giovinco in the 20th. A nice recovery run in the 30th minute amounted to nothing and Nico finished an inglorious half by being dispossessed easily on multiple occasions.
I wish I could say that Lodeiro was much improved in the second half, but he wasn’t. He was a bit better though, and did help keep possession on multiple occasions by supporting Jones in the early moments, switching to the left and attempting to find a spark. In the 53rd he nearly put Dempsey through, and credit to Nico for continuing to work hard through the struggles. Late in the game as Seattle finally mounted some pressure, Nico seemed to wilt, with his touch failing him in the 76th and 77th minutes, killing promising attacks each time. This was such a disappointing, forgettable performance from a player who is much, much better than he showed.
Will Bruin – 3 | Community – 3.8
We saw how effective Bruin could be against slow defenders, stretching the field and creating the vital space needed by his teammates to terrorize Houston. Against Toronto he was a terror alright, but one that Sounders fans will be having nightmares about for a while. His brick touch led to an abysmal 66% completion rate in passes, and he was completely unable to hold any possession for Seattle. The same integral possession that Nelson Valdez fought and clawed for last year was seemingly handed to Toronto repeatedly in this final. Will Bruin didn’t have a shot, create a shot, win an aerial, complete a cross, have a successful dribble, or even win a foul. This was a failure of tactics and execution on the biggest MLS stage.
After opening the game by letting Drew Moor walk into a free header in minute two, Bruin dropped into a passing lane to steal the ball in the 7th. For a minute it looked like he might continue to drop into that space and gum up Toronto (spoiler: he didn’t) which might have drastically altered the game state. Even just tracking Bradley when he went forward would have helped a lot. Will did a few other nice things this game, almost all hold-up plays where he came back to the ball and either chested or touched the ball back to a teammate, but as this teammate was often Nico who promptly fumbled it away, Seattle failed to utilize these plays. Bruin was unable to control any long ball for any length of time, which put immense pressure on whichever teammate he fired the ball at. His service varied from “only a few yards wide … and out of bounds (51’)” to “directly into Nico’s face (41’).” Full of confidence from last match, Will tried a fancy 14th minute back heel and 34th minute spinning flick that both failed miserably and killed the elusively small chances that Seattle created. He did have a single back heel that was successful, in minute 61, that sprung the scorching pace of Clint Dempsey forward.
I lost track of the number of bad touches and poor holdups, but there were many. Seattle desperately needed someone to stretch the field. Seattle desperately needed someone to hold the ball and let the defense breathe while pulling the midfield into the attack. Seattle desperately needed someone to be goal dangerous and create space for incisive midfield runs. Will Bruin was not that player against Toronto, and it’s perhaps unfair to expect him to be someone he simply is not.
Jordan Morris – 5 | Community – 4.5 (on 71’)
I don’t know why Morris was brought on so late. I don’t know why Morris was brought on to play winger. He would have been a better fit up top, stretching the defense and creating the space that was missing all game. Putting him on the wing where he naturally gravitated to the middle just mirrored the issues with V-Rod, and didn’t offering a legitimate wide player who would penalize Toronto for leaving the wide spaces open. Instead Morris was brought in wide to meander around the left central channel and give some semblance of an over the top option.
Morris completed all his passes, got a nice left footed cross off in the 81st, and defended late (86’). He just didn’t fit well in the shape of the field, with Jones still failing to overlap and no one up top creating any depth to the field. Jordan never was able to open his legs up, so there is no telling if his blazing speed was back and could have spread the field but it might have been neat to find out. One of his few attacks saw him no more eager than any other Sounder, turning and dropping the ball when presented with an opponent, instead of aggressively taking someone on, looking for an equalizer. There just wasn’t much to see here from a guy who is so, so much better than he showed this season.
Nouhou – 5 | Community – 4.8 (On 91’)
Moved to the bench for the final, it was clear that Nouhou sat there internally screaming for 90 minutes. When unleashed upon the game he charged onto the field, showing more urgency and passion than anyone else all match. He was a bright light of hope, a young player who was going to give his all even if for only a few minutes.
Let me repeat: Nouhou showed the most urgency out of any player from the Sounders, and he played a mere three minutes.
His 1v1 defense in the 93rd showed he was up to the task, winning the ball in a tough situation when he was isolated as the last (and only) man back. Unfortunately, his desire outclassed his touch a minute later, and while trying to dribble forward from the back he was dispossessed and Toronto immediately scored.
Alan Chapman – 5 | Community – 6.0
I thought this was a decently reffed game live, but on the rewatch it was infuriating for both its lack of consistency on calls and consistently bad or wrong calls. So much about this referee job frustrated me, from his bad diagonal (in theory, he should maintain a position on a diagonal between the two ARs), to swallowing the whistle, to a poor effort by the supporting referee cast. Even though it was personally frustrating, I think it was a decent overall performance.
In the 5th minute a handball wasn’t called, and again in the 10th, but I could see that Chapman was willing to let borderline calls go for the sake of keeping the game going. This quickly got annoying for me, and even more so for the Sounders players who were often on the wrong end of these decisions. In the 15th Dempsey was fouled while passing up the wing and this clear whistle was instead called a throw-in. A throw-in four minutes later was given to the wrong team, which the AR missed moments after incorrectly calling Morrow offside. Right before halftime a clearly offside Morrow was this time inexplicably not whistled. I realize that this game was lopsided in possession, but Toronto apparently committed zero fouls in the first half, something my notes completely disagreed with.
The second half was even worse. Svensson clearly committed a professional foul on Osorio in the 47th but didn’t get a yellow. Five minutes later Bradley deliberately kept his leg high versus Leerdam on the wing after a tackle, forcing Kelvin to jump over and trip yet there was no call. These two again tangled in the 55th with a clear touch by Bradley out of bounds that the same struggling AR missed. I thought Morrow deserved a penalty in the 57th but the replay showed a spectacular call by Chapman to ignore Toronto’s pleas — except Chapman was screened on the play and just apparently decided he was not going to make any game-defining calls. The Toronto goal was offsides, which is all the more infuriating because the referees had the benefit of VAR and flatly ignored it.
Perhaps the epitome of the refereeing in this one happened in the 80th, with Nico getting hacked at by Bradley and falling down, shielding the ball. He attempted to get up and is pushed over by Bradley, at which point Chapman promptly called Lodeiro for a handball. Toronto played a great game, and they supposedly only committed three fouls all match. This clearly frustrated Seattle. I would have liked a more assertive referee job for the final, and the idea that the playoffs have to be refereed differently and “more let go” in order to make it about the players and not the ref doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Toronto FC MOTM
Michael Bradley was dominant throughout the match and dominant in our poll. [Insert joke about how it would be great if he could perform like this for the national team here.]
If you got through all this, congrats and thanks. I thought about making it short and sweet, but I had a lot to get off my chest after re-watching. It took me a week to get up the nerve to analyze it, and here’s what I saw: Seattle played badly. Really badly. Three or four players had their worst games as Sounders and nearly everyone under-performed. This snowballed as the leadership that should have seen them through this adversity just wasn’t there. The difference in quality of play was multiplied by the advantageous tactical and positional things from a quality coaching job by Greg Vanney. He utilized a healthy team to leverage home field and formational advantages and deserves credit for their outstanding play as well.
It was hugely disappointing to see the players and coaches from Seattle unable to adjust to the opponent’s playing style that was clearly outperforming their own. Instead of playing proactive soccer, Seattle looked shell-shocked and reactive, relying on desperation plays and unable to calm down and combine — something they’ve been clearly capable of throughout the season. I agreed with the lineup, but in hindsight there were some pretty clear opportunities to adjust in ways that would have given Seattle a much, much better chance than “hold on.”
Toronto was the clearly better team in that game, but I am not convinced they are that much better than Seattle.
I’ll be back soon with player recaps for all regular season and playoff ratings.