Toronto FC defeats Seattle Sounders to win first MLS Cup

Toronto FC’s Jozy Altidore talks about the impact winning the MLS Cup had on the fans in Toronto.

• Seattle Sounders 0, Toronto FC 2 (Altidore 67’, Vazquez 90’+4′)
• Toronto becomes 1st Canadian team to win MLS Cup
• TFC completes historic season, gains revenge on Seattle

TORONTO – From the worst team in the world, to the greatest team in Major League Soccer history. That’s the story of Toronto FC.

Former TFC striker Danny Kovermanns, who was not shy about speaking his mind during his tenure with the cub, raised a fuss when he boldly proclaimed Toronto was “setting a record as the worst team in the world” after it opened the 2012 season with nine consecutive losses. That was the low point of a franchise which was the laughingstock of MLS since its debut campaign.

Five years on, TFC is the class of the league, completing its dream season with Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Seattle Sounders in the MLS Cup final before a sellout crowd of 30,584 fans at BMO Field.

Jozy Altidore – named MLS Cup MVP when all was said and done – scored the game’s winning goal midway through the second half after Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei stymied Toronto all evening. It was just reward for the American forward who produced a “Bobby Baun moment” in the previous round of the playoffs, scoring the winner after crumpling to the ground and having his ankle taped up minutes earlier. Victor Vazquez also scored for the home side.

This MLS Cup win is sweet revenge for TFC after losing to Seattle via a shootout in last year’s final before its fans. It also completes a historic treble, with the Reds having previously won the Supporters’ Shield (the trophy awarded to the team that finishes the regular season in first place) and the Canadian club championship this year.

“This team, from the day we lost in the final last year, has been on a mission. … Three trophies this year. I’m so proud,” TFC club president Bill Manning told Sportsnet inside the locker room as he swigged from a champagne bottle.

With three major pieces of hardware in the trophy cabinet in 2017, and having set the record for most points in a single regular season (69), can there be any question that this Toronto FC side is the greatest team in MLS history?

The magnitude of Toronto’s achievement should not be overlooked. Only six times has the Supporters’ Shield winner gone on to win MLS Cup before this year, and the David Beckham-led LA Galaxy was the last to do it in 2011. Seattle was attempting to become only the fourth team to repeat as MLS Cup champions – D.C. United (1996-97), Houston Dynamo (2006-07) and Galaxy (2011-12). But it couldn’t pull it off – one MLS dynasty ended, and new one was born on Saturday.

“The best thing about this is that this team isn’t done. We’re going to be really good next year. The next step is [winning] the CONCACAF Champions League, and we’ve already been talking about it. We’re set up for long-term success. This isn’t a one-off,” Manning promised.

For long-suffering TFC fans who stuck with the team during some very lean times – the club didn’t earn a single playoff berth through its first eight years – Saturday’s MLS Cup win was a long time coming.

“These [fans] have been through a lot. I’ll never forget the look on their faces when [Ramon] Torres scored that final penalty last year, with the crying. The feeling of winning is great for all of us, but even more so for the fans who have been with this team from Day 1,” Altidore offered.

While it was Altidore and Vazquez who scored the goals, it was captain Michael Bradley who provided the Reds with plenty of grit and hustle, and he was the best player on the pitch by some distance. The American midfielder ran himself ragged and was a bulwark in the centre of the park, breaking up plays, winning tackles and chasing down Seattle players to win back possession.

“When he’s a man on a mission, he can cover ground like nobody. Today, he was on it, for sure. On the attacking side, he controlled everything for us, and the initiation of a lot of our attacks went through him,” coach Greg Vanney said of Bradley.

All week, Toronto’s captain talked about this game being about Toronto and not Seattle, that it was about redemption, and not revenge. After Saturday’s game, Bradley admitted the memory of that heartbreaking loss to Seattle in last year’s final, and getting the opportunity to make things right, was what motivated TFC this season.

“Lifting this trophy has been an obsession for the last 364 days, not just for me but for every single guy in our team, every coach, every member of the staff. From the second that Torres scored the winning penalty last year, to get back here and give ourselves another crack at it, there’s no other word for it than obsession,” Bradley said.

Vanney switched from his preferred 3-5-2 system to a diamond-shaped 4-4-2 formation, with Bradley operating as a shield in front of the defence. Defender Eriq Zavaleta lost his place at the expense of Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio, while wingbacks Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour dropped into the back line. Top scorer Clint Dempsey started for Seattle after missing last year’s final through injury.

Frei was the star of the opening half, making a series of outstanding saves to keep Seattle in the game. In last year’s final, Frei made a stupendous save in extra time to rob Altidore of a sure goal. The Swiss goalkeeper stood on his head in the Saturday’s opening half, making a number of stellar stops to keep the Sounders in the match. Toronto dominated possession, and dictated the pace of the game, and could have easily been up 4-0 at the half if not for Frei.

Sebastian Giovinco (twice!), Marky Delgado, and Vazquez were all thwarted by Frei, but he saved his best effort for Osorio, brilliantly getting down to tip a stinging shot from the Canadian out of danger. It took two MLS Cup finals and 150 minutes for Seattle to finally register a shot on target – Joevin Jones’ tame effort on goal barely tested TFC shot-stopper Alex Bono.

Toronto continued to lay siege upon Seattle’s penalty area early in the second half, as Beitashour’s shot from the edge of the box whispered past the far post. Bradley laced an attempt from 20 yards out moments later that Frei couldn’t control but did manage to get his body behind box before the rebound was cleared away by one of his defenders.

Giovinco and Altidore linked up to great effect in a sweeping move that unlocked Seattle’s defence, with the American feeding the Italian who fired a low shot on goal that Frei read all the way and athletically tipped out for a corner kick.

The Giovinco-Altidore tandem would not be denied, though. After building out from the back, the Reds pushed the ball up the field, and Giovinco delivered a killer pass that released Altidore clear on goal. He took a few steps, and showed great poise with a defender hot on his heels before cooly slotting it past an onrushing Frei.

Down a goal, the Sounders furiously pressed for an equalizer, only to run into a stout TFC defence, ably abetted by Bradley, that comfortably kept them at bay. Vazquez scored in extra time to seal the win for Toronto, banging in a rebound after teammate Armando Cooper’s shot hit the post.

Vanney admitted it wasn’t until the Spaniard’s goal that he allowed himself to relax. It was in that moment that he also started thinking about his mother, who passed away earlier this year.

“That was the first time when I took a deep breath and felt like we had done it. Before then it was a long game where chances were coming but we weren’t putting them away, Stefan Frei is having a blinder of a game. Even with the first goal, I was still on edge,” Vanney said.

“When that second goal came, my emotions came out a little bit. I looked up to the sky [towards my mother]. She would have been really proud. I’ve lost this game four times before [three as a player], and she witnessed all of those, so I was happy just to finally do it with this group of guys who have been amazing all year.”

At the final whistle, BMO Field erupted as some fans rushed onto the pitch while a makeshift stage was quickly erected in the middle of the field. It was there that MLS commissioner Don Garber presented the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy to Bradley, who hoisted it aloft as fireworks went off in the background.

“To every single guy who has been a part of this road and this journey for the last year, it’s incredible. To cap it off tonight in the way that we did, to play the way that we did with everything on the line, with all the supposed pressure on our shoulders, I’m so f—king proud,” Bradley said.

The first decade of Toronto FC in the words of the players, coaches, executives and fans who built the franchise.

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