Against all odds, the Seattle Sounders not only reached the 2019 MLS Cup final, but hosted it. The event was cause for jubilation — Seattle’s first time playing in the final at home, the first real full-stadium sellout in team history, the first opportunity to lift the coveted hardware in front of tens of thousands of their own fans. To do that they would need to get past an all-too-familiar foe in Toronto FC.
Unlike the dominant TFC teams of 2016 and 2017, this version of the Reds was similarly an unexpected participant in the final, and Seattle was inarguably the better team on paper. But fans of both Seattle and Toronto know the feeling all too well — the better team with the better of the chances had nothing to show for it as the clock ticked away into the second half. A knot forms in your stomach and you start to ponder the many ways things could go wrong and how the game could slip away from your side.
Seattle’s halftime adjustments hadn’t done much to change the tone, and the match was starting to tilt in Toronto’s favor and a change was needed to shift momentum back. As Brian Schmetzer prepared to bring Victor Rodriguez into the game, the deadlock was finally broken in the 57th minute as a seemingly innocuous Kelvin Leerdam shross deflected twice to slip past Quentin Westberg, and hope rose anew from the throngs of Sounders fans in attendance. A few moments later, Rodriguez entered to provide some much needed attacking spark and fresh legs on the flanks, and the move paid off handsomely.
Your overwhelming selection for Best Moment from MLS Cup was Rodriguez’s screamer in the 76th minute to put the Sounders up 2-0. The goal put a dagger in the match and ultimately proved to be the game winner, and from that moment onward CenturyLink Field was engulfed in an immense celebration as the clock ticked toward 90 and MLS Cup went from a possibility to an inevitability. Rodriguez’s goal received 66% of your vote, with the amazing full-stadium tifo a distant second at 21%.
Victor gets the goal to make it 2-0. pic.twitter.com/vrpP4FH9fm— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) November 10, 2019
The goal was a huge moment, both for the Spaniard and for the club. The raucous response triggered a small seismic event, the largest of three recorded during the game, and it cemented Rodriguez’s place in the lore of the team. He is the latest of several players who had somewhat muted careers with the Sounders, but who stepped up when it mattered most and delivered playoff-defining goals. His name will go down with the likes of Mario Martinez, whose game winner over Real Salt Lake gave Seattle their first playoff series victory in 2012, and Nelson Valdez, whose last-minute knockout round goal propelled the Sounders past Sporting Kansas City en route to their first title in 2016.
In each of those cases the goal itself was also a thing of beauty, perhaps none more than Rodriguez’s. He received a pass from Gustav Svensson about 30 yards from goal, but the six TFC players nearby were well positioned to defend against the four Seattle attackers. Incredibly, Rodriguez split four of them with a well-timed give-and-go sequence with Nico Lodeiro, got the ball back near the top of the box, and took one very smart touch to bring the ball more central and launch a low shot just between the outstretched legs of Omar Gonzelez and Chris Mavinga and into the far side netting. Had he put the shot a mere inch to the left or right, it would have either been blocked by a defender, stopped by the diving Westberg, or skimmed wide of the far post.
For much of his career in Seattle, fans pondered just what a fully healthy Victor Rodriguez could look like and what new dimension he might bring to the attack. He still wasn’t 100% for this game, but what he showed was exactly what had been promised when he first signed in mid-2017. It was the perfect coda to his time in Seattle and a deserving winner as the Best Moment from MLS Cup 2019.