The game in 200 words (or less): For the second time in four seasons, the Seattle Sounders are MLS champions by way of defeating Toronto FC in MLS Cup 2019, cementing their claim to one of a select few dynasties in league history (coupled with four U.S. Open Cups in 11 years since joining MLS). 69,274 were in attendance for the tie-breaking title decider at CenturyLink Field (Seattle and Toronto met in back-to-back MLS Cups in 2016 and 2017, with each side winning one). While Atlanta United romped to the 2018 title with exciting, free-flowing soccer, Seattle and Toronto reached Sunday’s final by way of a far more pragmatic approach — one from which neither side deviated, to the disappointment of most anyone not sporting Rave Green.
The game (finally) opened up with Kelvin Leerdam’s 57th-minute goal — which should have gone down as a Justin Morrow own goal — before Victor Rodriguez bagged the eventual winner with a terrific curler in the 76th. Raul Ruidiaz added an insurance goal in the 90th minute, unofficially kicking off what will undoubtedly be a week full of celebrations in the Emerald City. Jozy Altidore‘s 93rd-minute consolation goal could do little to dampen the mood.
Three things we learned
1. Clash of styles, adjustments in first half: So often in this game — and throughout the second half of the season — Seattle could be found defending with 10 and 11 players behind the ball, all within 15 or 20 yards of their own penalty area. That was the case once again on Sunday, as all four of Ruidiaz Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris and Joevin Jones are always ready to track back when Brad Smith and Kelvin Leerdam bomb forward.
They’re far from a bunkering side, though, as the full backs are as much attackers as they are defenders. Few teams in MLS counter-attack with the pace and precision of Seattle, regardless of who wins the ball, regardless of where they win it. TFC want as much of the ball as they can have — they do a fantastic job of controlling the game’s pace with their own possession — and the opened the game with plenty of possession, but every time Seattle won it they were off to the races in the blink of an eye. The Reds realized they couldn’t fend off counter after counter for 90 minutes, causing them to drop considerably deeper after 15 minutes. This meant it was almost all Seattle, as far as the chances went, for the ensuing 15 minutes.
Having now dropped too deep, TFC let the midfield-three of Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio and Marco Delgado set the line of confrontation in the middle third. Seattle had no answer for this — at least not in the first half — and TFC looked in complete control, without truly threatening Stefan Frei in Seattle’s goal, until Ruidiaz found himself with the game’s first real scoring chance in the 45th minute. Quentin Westberg was quick off his line to deny the Peruvian’s one-on-one look.
2. A fitting goal: To which you might say, “It doesn’t matter how they scored, only that they scored.” While technically correct, those who tuned in and persisted through the 90 minutes deserved something better than the Leerdam ricochet-goal/Morrow own-goal winner that they got.
3. Rodriguez makes a massive difference: Fortunately, Rodriguez had a moment of magic up his sleeve after coming on just after the hour mark. Smith made way for the Spaniard, a savvy tactical change by Brian Schmetzer to play with greater width down the right side (Morris) and tuck the left (Rodriguez) inside and underneath Ruidiaz. After finding little joy with the original down either side in the opening 60 minutes, Schmetzer’s change opened TFC up to constant goal threats before Rodriguez made it 2-0. Sure, TFC facing a deficit changed their gameplan considerably and forced them to live dangerously, but Seattle remained steadfast in soaking up pressure and hitting on the counter.
Man of the match: Raul Ruidiaz
Goalscorers: Leerdam (57′), Rodriguez (76′), Ruidiaz (90′), Altidore (90’+3)