“The Trilogy” turned into a thriller for the home crowd.
Meeting in the MLS Cup for the third time in four years, the Seattle Sounders used a three-goal flurry in the second half to defeat visiting Toronto FC 3-1, taking the rubber match Sunday afternoon before a crowd of 69,274 at CenturyLink Field.
Kelvin Leerdam, Victor Rodriguez and Raul Ruidiaz scored for the Sounders (20-10-8), and goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who played in Toronto from 2009-13, made four saves — three in the first half while the game was still scoreless.
Substitute Jozy Altidore scored on a diving header off a cross from Alejandro Pozuelo in second-half stoppage time for Toronto (16-11-11), but it wasn’t enough to keep the Sounders from claiming the second title in franchise history.
“The players persevered, and the fans never stopped believing,” said coach Brian Schmetzer, a Seattle native who played for the original Sounders of the old North American Soccer League in the early 1980s.
The Sounders won their previous title in 2016, claiming the championship in penalty kicks after a scoreless draw in Toronto. The Reds avenged that defeat the following season with a 2-0 victory.
“The first half was hard for us, Toronto played well,” said Rodriguez, who scored what proved to be the winner and was named the game’s MVP. “The second half we played more of our soccer and kept more possession.”
Rodriguez missed half the season with injuries and came off the bench in three playoff games, including Sunday’s final.
“It was a hard season for me, but now I’m enjoying this moment,” he said. “I’m so happy for today, for MLS Cup and the MVP. We have to enjoy this now, the champagne is here.”
Leerdam struck first in the 57th minute. Ruidiaz controlled the ball about 25 yards from the net on the left side before lofting a cross-field pass for Leerdam on the right wing. Leerdam dribbled past one defender and unleashed a 15-yard shot that deflected off the shin of Toronto defender Justin Morrow and into the left side of the net.
“In the first half, I thought we were fluid and had good organization,” said Toronto coach Greg Vanney, whose team had a 13-match unbeaten streak snapped (7-0-6). “As the game progressed, we bogged down. … In the end, it’s a game of scoring goals, and they scored the goals.”
Altidore, the U.S. international, made his first appearance for Toronto since the regular-season finale Oct. 6 because of a quad strain.
“It’s soccer, you work with what you have,” Vanney said. “It’s unfortunate Jozy got hurt just before the playoffs. We weren’t as potent in front of goal (without Altidore) as we’d like to be.”
Rodriguez, who entered in the 61st minute, doubled the advantage in the 76th. He worked a nifty give-and-go with Nicolas Lodeiro, and his shot from the top center of the 18-yard box made its way through two converging defenders and off the fingertips of Toronto goalkeeper Quentin Westberg before bouncing just inside the right post. Gustav Svensson also was credited with an assist.
Ruidiaz added insurance in the 90th minute, taking a long stretch pass from Svensson down the middle of the field, outmuscling Toronto’s Chris Mavinga for the ball and lofting a left-footed shot from 18 yards over Westberg.
Schmetzer had prepared some postgame remarks the morning of the final, with one side of the page for if his team won and the other if it lost.
“That’s a testament to Greg Vanney and Toronto,” Schmetzer said. “We caught them three times in four years. I was prepared (either way).”
–Field Level Media (@FieldLevelMedia)