By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) – The Seattle Sounders claimed their first Major League Soccer Cup by beating Toronto FC 5-4 on penalties after their title game ended 0-0 after extra-time on Saturday.
After Toronto’s Justin Morrow hit the crossbar, Seattle defender Roman Torres coolly hammered home the decider as the Sounders finally celebrated victory following seven seasons of near misses.
With zero shots on goal after 120 minutes it looked as if the Sounders, who have reached the playoffs in each of their eight years in the league, would come up short yet again but found the target when it mattered most.
Brad Evans, Andreas Ivanshitz, Joevin Jones and Nicolas Lodeiro also scored in the shootout for Seattle while Sounders goalkeeper capped an evening of spectacular saves by denying Morrow and Toronto captain Michael Bradley.
Frei, who spent five seasons with TFC, returned to torment his former team mates earning MLS Cup most valuable player honors after shutting out a high-powered Toronto attack that had produced 17 goals in five playoff contests.
The Seattle keeper’s biggest save, however, did not come in the shootout but deep into extra time when the Swiss dove across the net at full stretch and with his left hand tipped away a looping header from Jozy Altidore.
“It looked like it was going to go in and then all of a sudden here comes this paw and he gets a hold of it,” praised Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer.
“It was a tremendous save but there were a couple of other times I thought the ball might have gone in.”
For TFC and their fans it was a crushing result to a contest they had dominated for 120 minutes but could not breach a Seattle defense that had conceded just three goals in five playoff matches.
“They always had numbers around the goal and in the box,” lamented Toronto coach Greg Vanney. “Whenever we got into those areas there were times we just couldn’t get that final pass to someone who could finish.
“The few times we hit the goal Frei picks things out.”
It was perfect ice hockey weather at BMO Field, which in three weeks will host the NHL’s Centennial Classic outdoor game, but the bone-chilling temperatures did little to cool down a fired up capacity crowd of close to 36,000.
Toronto made a lively start and enjoyed the run of play in a scrappy opening half.
The Reds’ best scoring chance came early when Altidore squeezed a shot from inside the area that sliced by the post and a diving Frei in the second minute.
After the break it was Sebastian Giovinco, the other half of Toronto’s strike partnership, finally finding space down the left wing coming close when he ripped a shot that just missed the near post.
Toronto nearly ended the drama with an injury time winner when Bradley sent in a corner that Frei narrowly punched clear just before a diving Altidore could get his head on the ball.
But it was Frei’s save on Altidore in the 108th minute that Vanney believes robbed his team of a title.
“That was one of the great saves that I have seen in a big moment because that goal to me ends the game,” said Vanney. “We win if we do that. He saved the game for them.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Larry Fine/Peter Rutherford)