SEATTLE — An MLS Cup rematch against rival Toronto FC didn’t start out pretty for the Seattle Sounders, who struggled to find their footing for much of Sunday’s championship. But it sure ended in style.
A slick top-of-the-box strike from Victor Rodriguez, followed by a Raul Ruidiaz breakaway chip in the second half, sealed a 3-1 win and the Sounders’ second MLS Cup in four years in front of a record crowd at CenturyLink Field.
“I’m really happy for all the fans, my teammates, the coach,” Rodriguez said. “We deserved that. We work every day so hard. I’m really happy to win the last game with our fans in Seattle. This feeling is amazing.”
The match started ugly for the Sounders, who sat deep, absorbing Toronto’s attack and trying to break the other way on the counter.
In the first half, Toronto FC dominated possession at 65% and passed the ball twice as many times as Seattle. Although the Sounders outshot Toronto 8-6 in the first half, Toronto’s chances were more dangerous.
The game stood at a scoreless deadlock for 58 minutes. Toronto seemed to be on the brink of finding a breakthrough, but when the visitors finally did direct the ball into the goal, it was for the wrong team.
Seattle’s Kelvin Leerdam launched a cross toward the back post that was going wide of goal, but it deflected off Toronto defender Justin Morrow and into the goal. After that, the sellout crowd of mostly Sounders fans became electrifying, bolstering the Sounders to another two goals.
“In that first half, we never got in behind,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “In the second half, we were on the fringe in doing so. We were fortunate to have scored that first goal — it really set the tone and made Toronto open up even more.”
CenturyLink Field sold out just 20 minutes after tickets went on sale, according to MLS. The crowd of 69,274 was the second-largest in MLS Cup history after last year’s final at Atlanta drew 73,019 to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“We need to get the crowd into it,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said after the Sounders’ lackluster first half. “We need to create more chances, more possession and get them more into it.”
After the own goal, that’s exactly what happened. In the 75th minute, Rodriguez collected a ball wide, dribbled toward goal and fired from the top of the box past Toronto goalkeeper Quentin Westberg.
In the 90th minute, Ruidiaz got on a breakaway and chipped Westberg to extend the Sounders’ lead.
“That’s the beauty of football,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “It goes in ebbs and flows, and teams test each other and try to minimize their own mistakes. But when there’s a tiny little sniff, can you have a player at the right spot at the right time with the right mentality and say, ‘I’ll make something out of this moment?’ We didn’t have too many chances today but we scored three goals. I liked our ruthlessness.”
Both teams finished the match with just 14 shots. The Sounders put six on target, while Toronto placed five on frame.
Toronto FC started again Sunday without star striker Jozy Altidore, who was injured on the final day of the regular season and hadn’t featured in the postseason. Altidore offered a grim outlook of his availability for Sunday’s championship, but he came on in the 68th minute in a surprising move and eventually scored TFC’s lone goal in stoppage time.
The Sounders and Toronto faced each other twice previously in the MLS Cup. The Sounders won on penalty kicks in 2016 after a 0-0 deadlock. Toronto won the following year with a decisive 2-0 win.
The Sounders have never missed the MLS playoffs in 11 seasons, the longest-running streak in the league, and they have reached the MLS Cup three times.
A parade through downtown Seattle is scheduled for Tuesday to celebrate the Sounders’ new trophy.
“Sometimes things don’t look pretty,” Frei said. “Sometimes things don’t go our way. But we never give up. Today was a perfect example of that. We didn’t play our best game but we kept going.”