We did it. Riding a wave of confidence from the Western Conference Final win at LAFC, the Sounders came into CenturyLink and won 3-1 against Toronto FC in front of nearly 70,000 people. The Canadian team deserves credit for a strong tactical setup that clogged the game up and allowed them to dominate between the 18-yard boxes for much of the game. In the second half, however, the Sounders emerged as the superior team by not yielding more than a couple of chances while creating dynamic team play and three outstanding goals. What a delight it was to watch our team celebrate winning their second MLS Cup, at home, with their teammates, families, and a whole stadium full of proud and happy fans.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 8.1
Frei was credited with four saves, although only one really challenged him. The others were stymied by his usual excellent positioning and Stef coupled this with very strong control of his box throughout. A number of punches and catches in traffic ensured that Toronto would have to be near-perfect in another Final to beat him. The defense was strong in front of Frei, and even though Toronto had a lot possession, they rarely tested the Seattle keeper.
One thing I liked: Frei is a big-time player and once again he showed up big when needed in the biggest game of the year. There’s no telling how the match would have gone had Nicolas Benezet scored in the 36th minute, but we didn’t have to find out as Stef dove to his left and showed off great strength to parry Toronto’s best chance away. His footwork and balance are phenomenal, making this save look easier than it was.
One thing I didn’t like: Jozy Altidore scoring in the 93rd of 95 minutes sucks. Frei and his defense deserved the shutout.
Brad Smith – 6 | Community – 7.3 (off 61’ for Rodríguez)
Brad did an admirable job defending, notable for a guy who is an offensive master but can struggle in defense. He had three tackles, three clearances, and seven recoveries, showing the defensive ability and grit needed for Seattle to weather consistent Toronto pressure in long spells. Tsubasa Endoh was a non-factor before being subbed due to stellar defense from Jordan Morris and Smith on the left.
One thing I liked: Brad was a bit more reserved going forward, but still used his pace to keep Toronto on their heels while never neglecting his defensive duties. Seeing him come across the field time and time again to support the center backs was a pleasant surprise.
One thing I didn’t like: Only 62 percent passing and no key passes shows none of the dynamic attacking force we know Smith to be. I am not sure whether he was hurt, but I anticipated seeing him combine with Víctor up the left, and subbing him out had me scratching my head.
Kim Kee-hee – 8 | Community – 7.7
Kim joined up with a different center back pairing for the Final and looked comfortable. His range moving forward to attack Toronto’s false nine was terrific, delivering a physical presence Arreaga would be proud of. Although Seattle didn’t utilize his recovery speed on the left much, he was active stepping up to deny possession between Sounders lines. He won three aerials, matching up late with Omar Gonzalez who came forward from defense for Toronto.
One thing I liked: Kim was shuttled back to the left and once again he showed his versatility to combine between Torres and Smith. He had a huge 10 clearances combined with five recoveries and consistently stepped into space to snuff out Toronto chances. His ability to work with a rotating cast of players around him as he shuttles back and forth is a bonus.
One thing I didn’t like: A 30th minute back pass that handcuffed Frei reminded us that Kim isn’t a great passer. He was unlucky to be beaten by Alejandro Pozuelo in extra time which directly enabled Toronto to score.
Román Torres – 8 | Community – 7.9
Looking fully recovered from his injury, Torres stepped back into his customary MLS Cup-winning right center back position and again did everything needed to help his team win. His physical presence and smart positioning did just enough to bend but never break against a Toronto team that was befuddled by Seattle’s organization.
One thing I liked: Román was a wall. It wasn’t often pretty, but it was effective. He had an incredible 15 clearances on the night, continually being first to the ball and getting it out of danger. This lost possession a lot, but also prevented Toronto from creating many legitimately scary offensive chances.
One thing I didn’t like: Román just missed a 22nd minute corner kick that could have displayed his MLS Cup finishing ability but instead it went just over.
Kelvin Leerdam – 8 | Community – 8.0
Leerdam put in an outstanding Final, showing a balanced ability to both shunt Toronto attacks away from goal and pop up in the attack to support. Defensively, he was huge, with five tackles and three clearances, two blocked shots and five recoveries. With Joevin Jones consistently inverting in front of him, Kelvin also spent a lot of the match making underappreciated overlapping runs that weren’t rewarded until the second half.
One thing I liked: It had to be Leerdam in the Final, didn’t it? The guy who scored the first goal of the season put another blistering shot on goal in the 57th minute that deflected twice and went in. This play came off of an overlapping run that saw Kelvin get into good position but not receive the ball until a defender had time to recover. That defender, Benezet, was then juked out of his shorts by Leerdam before the goal rattled home.
One thing I didn’t like: It’s hard to blame Leerdam for taking the victory lap a little early, but Toronto blew up the shutout in part due to Kelvin failing to get back defensively in extra time. Toronto scored right through where he would normally be defending.
Gustav Svensson – 9 (MOTM) | Community – 8.6
This was one of the best matches I’ve ever seen Svensson play. He was everywhere on the field. He easily led the match with seven tackles and three interceptions and had a massive 20 defensive actions across the entire pitch. Whenever Toronto broke through one line, Goose was there to offer a crunching tackle and escort them back to midfield. He was a pure force of destruction, rivaling any midfield performance we have seen this season. Gustav was so inside Pozuelo’s head he has to change his name from Alejandro to HONKKKK. While the Toronto “forward” had a strong game in midfield, he was never able to enact change in the match going towards goal because there was a motivated Swedish bird constantly shutting him down.
One thing I liked: Svensson was just everywhere, stepping up every time Toronto tried to play quickly through the middle, and it wasn’t just defensively. In the 74th minute he pushed high and disrupted a counter and a minute later it was his aggressive anticipation that stole possession for Seattle and earned him a secondary assist on the game-winning goal.
One thing I didn’t like: Svensson gave up a 35th minute free kick in a bad spot, one of the only times he did anything that wasn’t awesome.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.5
While Svensson was running around stealing souls, Roldan combined near perfectly with his defensive midfield partner, moving in unison. He had 12 defensive actions while continually adjusting to the overloaded midfield. With Toronto at times having seven guys in the middle, it took this smooth communication from central defense to limit chances to speculative wide attempts. Although often outnumbered, I was especially impressed with how defensively compact Seattle stayed in the midfield, and their movement as a team and dedication to tactical shape was outstanding.
One thing I liked: Roldan looks for Morris consistently in space and his 73rd minute quick pass over the top nearly saw Jordan get around the keeper and score a second Sounders goal. This was another example of how well Cristian reads plays on both offense and defense, continually making the right decision in a critical match that showcased his soccer IQ.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 21st minute Roldan took a long shot and while it deflected out for a corner, a hungry Morris was open to his left ready to dive into the box and create a better opportunity.
Jordan Morris – 7 | Community – 7.3 (off 85’ for Delem)
Morris didn’t have a hattrick in the Final, but he showed a first-rate ability to impact the game via very strong defensive work rate and enough runs forward to keep Toronto off balance. Four tackles complemented an outstanding 10 recoveries for the Sounder winger, whose dedication to being a two-way player helped Seattle deal with a midfield numbers deficit. Jordan chipped in a shot on goal and did just enough with his ridiculous pace that the opponents could never feel comfortable sending extra numbers up the right.
One thing I liked: In the 9th minute Morris found the ball and an inch of space and put on a show. His 60-yard sprint past various defenders ending in a shot that forced a save from Quentin Westberg was absolutely beautiful. After seeing this counterattack potential, the away team was very cautious when leaving space on Jordan’s side for the rest of the match.
One thing I didn’t like: In the biggest game of the year, Morris wasn’t as much of a factor offensively as he could have been. But really, who cares?
Nicolás Lodeiro – 8 | Community – 8.4
Toronto did an admirable job keeping Lodeiro from the ball in dangerous positions for much of the match. He still turned his 77 touches into five key passes and was as usual his dominant self offensively while also contributing 10 defensive actions via his tireless work ethic. Lodeiro wore down the Toronto midfield and was still going full bore after Seattle went up 3-0.
One thing I liked: In big games, tactics only get you so far. You need your best players to be gamechangers. In the 76th minute Nico combined with Goose and Víctor Rodríguez to put the game away. It might not have seemed like much, but his perfect first-time layoff through two defenders while being fouled saw the ball on a platter for V-Rod to do his own bit of magic.
One thing I didn’t like: There were times when Seattle was overmatched in midfield and Nico got lost between the central defensive midfielders and Raúl Ruidíaz. This spacing improved immensely after Víctor arrived.
Joevin Jones – 6 | Community – 6.5
Jones had a quiet match against Toronto, but it was a huge improvement from the last time he played against them. He was credited with three tackles and a surprising 11 defensive recoveries, defending strongly on the width for Seattle. Jones also had some of the better pass completion for the Sounders, with his 78 percent showing an excellent ability to retain possession amidst constant pressure.
One thing I liked: In the 57th minute Jones checked to the touchline and then turned up the line to get on the end of a pass before finding Ruidíaz in space. It wasn’t amazing, but his ability to get into space behind the left wing and then find the right pass was good. Joevin put exactly the right amount of pace on a pass, through traffic, that Seattle eventually capitalized on.
One thing I didn’t like: Jones is good in possession, but he did too much dribbling on a number of occasions, which led to some turnovers in dangerous spots. His defensive cohesion with Leerdam in the first half was suspect, but ultimately Jones didn’t put his stamp on this game, good or bad.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 8 | Community – 8.6 (off 92’ for Arreaga)
Ruidíaz didn’t have many clean looks on goal, but his movement and control when he was near the ball created massive issues for the Toronto defense. He kept popping up in dangerous spots, and he nearly scored right before halftime on a half chance created by Nico and some smart movement from Raúl. He led the match with five shots, had a goal and an assist, and even won three aerials.
One thing I liked: With Seattle firmly on the front foot, Raúl took that foot and put it on the neck of Toronto in the 90th minute. Not satisfied to just pressure the ball and kill some clock, Ruidíaz recognized the communication error between Westberg and an injured Chris Mavinga and made a fantastic play to seal the match. This was a perfect summary of our Peruvian assassin: tenacity to follow the play that late in the match, burst speed to get around the defender, immaculate control to get possession running full sprint with a center back hanging on you, and deadly finishing to recognize his chance and score. There were no wasted movements, no extra touches and everything he did was to one purpose — kick the ball through the net and into ECS. The degree of difficulty to do all that in three touches was immense, and he made it look easy.
One thing I didn’t like: Although he eventually got the assist on the Leerdam goal, he was slow in getting him the ball and nearly blew the chance by double-clutching the pass. It got there, but he doesn’t get any style points for missing the wide-open run on first glance.
Víctor Rodríguez – 9 | Community – 8.9 (MOTM) (on 61’ for Smith)
Rodríguez earned the in-game MVP, but was narrowly pipped in these ratings by a Swedish Gander with a longer body of excellence. Rodríguez was truly game changing, however; his entry tipped the scale from near-even to massively in Seattle’s favor. When he subbed in, the Sounders immediately evened out the possession numbers and were very successful in turning that possession into chances. Rodríguez was everywhere, leading the team with 85 percent passing and creating chances for himself and teammates with linkup play and dynamic movement. He even was a force defensively, with three tackles among eight defensive actions in a completely dominant substitution appearance. V-Rod completely changed the game.
One thing I liked: Everything about the Sounders’ second goal was exceptional. It started with Víctor himself, confidently holding the ball in the corner against two defenders. Not satisfied to kick it off a defender for a corner, he found Jones and recycled possession for an attack. When Svensson stepped up and found an entry pass to the front, Rodríguez danced over the ball, expertly dummying it to Lodeiro. His faith in Nico to understand his movement paid off as Seattle’s number 10 dropped a perfect first-time pass into the path of V-Rod. This dummy run gave him a vital few feet of space, and Rodríguez did the rest, taking a touch and sizing up a tiny gap between the center backs. Víctor has taken a curling shot to the far post many times this season but it was in this moment, the biggest of the year, that his shot proved unstoppable. Seeing these players combine so magically was, well, magical.
One thing I didn’t like: Hah.
Jordy Delem – 6 | Community – 6.8 (on 85’ for Morris)
If Delem comes in late in a game, it’s often to lock things down defensively and that was the case in the Final. Although he only touched the ball four times, he kept his spacing well and earned an interception and a clearance in his short shift.
One thing I liked: Delem’s anticipation cut out at least one dangerous chance for Toronto prior to the Ruidíaz goal, which helped ensure that Seattle was never in a position where the opponent could tie up the match while he was on the field.
One thing I didn’t like: Delem didn’t complete either of his passes. A minor thing, with Seattle looking to clear stuff.
Xavier Arreaga – 6 | Community – 6.6 (on 92’ for Ruidíaz)
Arreaga came in and showed off his crunching tackles at least once, in the 94th minute.
One thing I liked: Getting him on the field in the playoffs was huge, and even a few minutes in the Final is the kind of thing that can feed good vibes and inclusion going into next year.
One thing I didn’t like: Toronto scored in his short time on the field.
Alan Chapman – 8 | Community – 7.3
Chapman and crew were excellent in the MLS Cup, which was another in an offseason dominated by strong officiating crews. Like previous rounds, Chapman allowed plenty of physical play but was fair in keeping the match under control and didn’t need to throw a lot of cards around to do so. Advantage was called when applicable, all reviews and communications from the sideline were done quickly and efficiently, and the team did a good job of making the match about the play on the field.
One thing I liked: Chapman wasn’t scared to call fouls, but he did a great job of calling the important ones and guiding the game from the side, instead of insinuating himself into the middle of it. A 14th minute foul by Kim on Pozuelo was followed with a warning, and then Mavinga was warned for similar action against Ruidíaz two minutes later. This strong cohesion from whistles and consistency made this an enjoyable match to watch, devoid of insertion by the referee squad.
One thing I didn’t like: In the first half there were a few no calls on both teams that could have been whistled without harming the run of play. Neither squad was interested in tactical hacking that could have forced a more active referee.
Toronto FC MOTM
Pozuelo did his best to overload the midfield and create trouble between the lines. Ultimately, he had the assist on Toronto’s lone goal. However, as mentioned above, his contribution was severely curtailed by Seattle’s own Man of the Match. HONK!
So, there it is. MLS CUP CHAMPS! Everything came together for the Sounders to become the best team in the league and completely dominate in the post-season. It was a hell of a run with some luck giving us a home game, but no one could stop Seattle from winning the title this year. I will be back soon with individual player ratings countdown.