SEATTLE— Toronto FC came to CenturyLink Field and took the game to the hosts, but the energy of the sold-out crowd and the resolve of a battle-tested Seattle Sounders side helped swing the MLS Cup final toward the home team in a dominant and decisive second half.
Ever the second-half team, the Sounders made the right moves after halftime, with Kelvin Leerdam’s opener, Victor Rodriguez’s wonder goal and Raul Ruidiaz’s killer late finish leading Seattle to a 3-1 victory over TFC on Sunday.
After a goal-less first half, the Sounders made some effective halftime adjustments and took control of the proceedings, with Leerdam opening the scoring in the 57th minute when he sent a shot at goal that deflected off TFC defender Justin Morrow. The play looked like it could have been declared an own goal, but the official scoring awarded the goal to Leerdam.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer went for the kill by inserting Victor Rodriguez for Brad Smith shortly after Leerdam’s goal, and Rodriguez responded with a beautiful goal in the 76th minute, curling a right-footed shot from the top of the penalty area.
“It was amazing,” Rodriguez said of scoring the eventual game-winning goal, which earned him match MVP honors. “I think the first half was hard for us because Toronto played very well. I think in the second half, we tried a little more of our soccer, our football. We kept a little more of the possession. This was, for me, key for the game.”
TFC never did recover, and struggled to mount much of a threat after Rodriguez’s goal, and the visitors saw their hopes completely dashed in the 90th minute when Ruidiaz raced onto a long ball from Gustav Svensson, outmuscling Chris Mavinga before a clinical finish to make the score 3-0.
Jozy Altidore, who entered the match as a 67th-minute substitute, snagged a late consolation goal in second-half stoppage time, but it wasn’t enough to deny Seattle its second title in four years.
Seattle’s dominant second half was a far cry from a first half that favored Toronto. The Sounders were expected to jump all over TFC to start Sunday’s match, but it was the Canadian side that controlled the flow of play in the first half, holding a 65-35 edge in possession. The visitors couldn’t parlay that control into goals though, while Seattle created some dangerous looks on the counter in a lively, if goalless, opening half.
“Whenever you have that kind of momentum its opportunity lost if you don’t come away with something,” TFC coach Greg Vanney said. “I thought we were our own worst enemy again in terms of ball circulation and the speed in which things were happening. That allowed them get back in the game, and obviously to punish us with the first ball in transition.”
Stefan Frei and Quentin Westberg were both called on to make tough saves in the opening half, with Frei having to react quickly when teammate Kim Kee-Hee fired a back-pass that nearly got past Frei before he stuck a leg out and negated the danger.
Westberg came up with the save of the half when he denied a Ruidiaz breakaway, but that save simply delayed the inevitable on a day when the Sounders were destined to lift the MLS Cup trophy.
“The players and the fans deserve this,” Schmetzer said. “The players persevered because again it was the first half that you know we needed to make some adjustments, and they never quit, and the fans never stopped believing. So I’m very very happy and proud for the city and the fans.”