On a frigid December night near the shore of Lake Ontario, the Seattle Sounders FC beat Toronto FC in a sudden-death round of penalty kicks to claim the 2016 MLS Cup. For both teams, getting there was an achievement. Each franchise was making its MLS Cup debut.
But on Saturday, the Seattle Sounders won 5–4 in the sixth round of penalty kicks after playing 120 minutes of scoreless soccer in sub-freezing weather.
It was the Sounders’ goalkeeper, Stefan Frei, and Seattle’s defense that won the game. The Sounders became the first team in MLS Cup history to win without recording a shot on goal.
Frei had a great night with seven saves, including one that is in the discussion for save of the year.
Toronto FC, of course, played well enough to force Frei to make those saves. In the third minute Jozy Altidore just missed his sixth goal in as many games. Then in the 30th minute Altidore had another chance, as he headed the ball towards the goal. Frei saved that one too.
Most of the first half was very chippy and physical, with multiple players going down, and in the second minute of stoppage time of the first half, Sounders defender Chad Marshall got the first yellow card of the game.
Between the 70th and 72nd minutes, the game got chippy again. Steven Beitashour of Toronto was behind Osvaldo Alonso of the Sounders; Alonso shoved Beitashour backwards into the ground. Alonso was given a yellow card.
Just moments earlier, Nelson Valdez of the Sounders had been knocked to the ground and had to be helped off the field by medical staff.
At the third minute of stoppage time in the second half, one of Toronto’s best players, Michael Bradley, was given a yellow card.
It was in the 108th minute that Frei made what could quite possibly be the save of the year. Altidore hit a header toward the goal. Frei went left; the ball was going right! He turned, pivoted, set his feet, jumped off his left foot, and knocked the ball away!
After 120 minutes of scoreless play, the game would be decided by penalty kicks. (Overtime would be a best of five, then sudden death.) The fans in attendance — all 36,045 of them — were on their feet.
After the best of five, each team had four goals apiece. Toronto defender Justin Morrow hit the crossbar on his shot, and the ball landed in front of the goal line, setting up Roman Torres for the game winning kick.
It was his first MLS penalty-kick attempt, and it was true. The ball crossed the goal line almost perfectly down the middle.
With the win, the Sounders won their first MLS Cup, to go along with their U.S. Open Cup and Supporter’s Shield titles.
It gave the Sounders’ Brian Schmetzer, who was named interim coach in July, an MLS championship a mere five-and-a-half weeks after being named head coach. He is the first to lead his team to a championship after coming in mid-season. Two other coaches have reached the final but fallen short.
Zach Scott, Seattle’s longest serving player, will end his career at the highest point possible, just as the NFL’s Peyton Manning did 10 months ago — retiring after winning his league’s championship.
Photograph by Claus Andersen/Getty Images