TORONTO (AP) — As homecomings go, the MLS Cup final is going to be hard to beat for Seattle’s Stefan Frei.
Frei made critical saves in regulation and then again in the penalty-kick shootout to help the Sounders win their first championship with a 5-4 victory in the tiebreaker against Toronto FC on Saturday night.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) December 11, 2016
The Swiss goalkeeper, who was drafted by Toronto in 2009 and spent five seasons with the club until he was traded in 2013, earned the game’s MVP honors.
“This is what you want to be a part of,” he said. “We’ve made Sounders history and for me it could have happened anywhere, I don’t care as long as I’m with my team and my teammates.”
Roman Torres scored in the sixth round of penalty kicks to clinch the trophy after 120 scoreless minutes. It was the first MLS Cup final to fail to produce a goal in regulation, setting the stage for a dramatic tiebreaker.
While Toronto’s Michael Bradley and Alvaro Fernandez for Seattle had both seen their shots saved, the game went to sudden-death spot kicks. Toronto’s Justin Morrow could only clatter his shot off the crossbar, setting the stage for Torres to win it with a high shot down the middle of the goal.
“You need a little bit of luck,” Frei said. “Let’s face it, PKs are not the prettiest thing to decide a game, and actually Roman missed a penalty in training yesterday. I’m glad he missed yesterday and not today.”
Seattle became the first team in MLS Cup final history to fail to produce a shot on target throughout the game. Additionally, the Sounders’ three shots overall were the fewest in an MLS title game, the first to feature two expansion franchises. Toronto was the first Canadian MLS Cup finalist.
That meant little to Bradley, who was understandably dejected after seeing his team become just the second to lose at home since MLS switched from having the final at a neutral location to the home stadium of the finalist with the most regular-season points in 2012. The Portland Timbers became the first when they won the championship in Columbus against the Crew last year.
“Every guy gave everything they had, every guy walked off the field having pored their hearts into the game and we didn’t get rewarded tonight,” Bradley said. “That’s sports, that’s life.”
With the game on the line, Toronto coach Greg Vanney removed former MLS most valuable player Sebastian Giovinco in the 103rd minute in favor of Tosaint Ricketts. While Vanney said that an exhausted Giovinco “couldn’t move,” after the game, the gutsy call almost paid off.
Following Ricketts’ cross five minutes after coming on, it looked as if Jozy Altidore was going to give Toronto the lead in the 108th minute with a looping header, but an athletic save from Frei kept it scoreless. Leaping to his left, he scooped the ball off the line with his left hand, allowing his defense to clear the ball to safety.
“Obviously Frei makes a couple big saves that keep them in it,” Vanney said. “But congratulations to them.”
For Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer, who took over from Sigi Schmid on July 26 with Seattle in ninth place in the Western Conference, the turnaround was complete. Posting an 8-2-4 record since then, Seattle became the first team in MLS history to make the playoffs after having 20 or fewer points through the season’s first 20 matches.
“Some people say defense wins championships,” he said. “You couple Roman’s performance with Stefan Frei, who came up massive with that one save and then in the penalty-kick shootout made the save that he needed to make.”
ONE COLD NIGHT
The temperature at kickoff was 28 degrees, making it the second-coldest MLS Cup on record. That honor goes to the 2013 edition at Sporting Park in Kansas City, where the game kicked off at 22 degrees.
ONE HOT TICKET
While the remaining tickets for Saturday’s final sold out in three minutes after going on sale to the general public last Monday, there were still 90 or so tickets available on StubHub 10 minutes prior to kickoff. Prices ranged from $147 up to $2,500 for a ticket that retailed between $55 and $555 at face value.
THE POWER OF CHANGE
Schmetzer became the first coach in MLS history to take charge of a team midway through the season and lead it to a championship. Schmid (Los Angeles Galaxy) and Steve Nicol (New England Revolution) took their teams to the title match, but both came up short.
THE PRICE IS RIGHT
“I hope we get to do this every year; it’s pretty fun. If we don’t win the championship every year I hope everyone has to go through us to get to the championship every year and when they get here they’re bloody and bruised and can barely play.” — Seattle Sounders part-owner, and host of the Price is Right, Drew Carey, in the locker room after the game.