2016 MLS Cup Playoffs

Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP

Seattle’s win seen by 3.5M on TV, the most-viewed MLS final

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NEW YORK (AP) Seattle’s penalty-kicks win over Toronto last weekend drew 3.5 million television viewers, the most for a Major League Soccer final.

[ MORE: Atlanta set to buy Paraguayan international Romero ]

Seattle’s 5-4 victory following a 0-0 tie Saturday night was seen by 1,411,000 viewers on Fox, the network said Tuesday. That was up 111 percent from the 668,000 that viewed Portland’s 2-1 win over Columbus in last year’s final, televised by ESPN on a Sunday afternoon, and the most U.S. viewers for the MLS final since 1.5 million tuned in for San Jose’s victory over the LA Galaxy in 2001.

MLS said 601,000 viewed Spanish-language U.S. coverage on UniMas, 1.43 million saw TSN’s English-language coverage in Canada and 92,000 tuned in for RDS’s French-language broadcast.

[ MORE: Jermaine Jones heading to Galaxy after Rapids receive first-round pick ]

The total surpassed the 2.2 million viewers for D.C. United’s win over Colorado in 1997, when there was no Canadian broadcast and Spanish-language coverage was via SAP on ABC.

Bradley lauds “fearless” teammates after heart-wrenching MLS Cup loss

@NicholasMendola
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TORONTO — Michael Bradley paused to collect himself, several times actually, before apologizing to Toronto FC’s supporters.

The game of football, with its soaring highs and gutting lows, was the latter now. TFC had dominated Seattle over a lackluster 120 minutes, Bradley engineered several big interventions and some delightful balls that didn’t have an end product.

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

Much of that won’t be remembered, though, because Bradley passed his penalty kick right into the path of a waiting Stefan Frei. Surrounded by reporters in the TFC locker room, Bradley chose his words carefully.

“When you put everything you have into something, when you come in every day ready to pour your heart and soul into something, the highs are amazing and emotional and incredible in a positive ways,” Bradley said. “And the setbacks… hit you hard. Every guy here is going to have to take the time to get over this one, to let it hurt, let it frustrate you, let it anger you.

“It’s not for the weak, and you see that on nights like tonight.”

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

Bradley was one of the final men to emerge from the showers at BMO Field, and he answered every question with brutal honesty.

“On behalf of the team, we can only thank every person in this city for their support and for the passion and the emotion and the energy that they put into this, together with us,” he said. “I’m sick to my stomach that we couldn’t reward them with the biggest trophy tonight.”

In defeat, it was easy to see why TFC’s locker room is drawn to its captain. Bradley shirked nothing, answering the tough questions and humoring those who would lob softballs about his family.

Among the former was this response, one of those quotes that moves a team into formation.

“The margins are so small, and on nights like this you have no choice but to go for it,” he said. “We talked about having a group of guy who were gonna, on the biggest of nights, be fearless and go after things in an aggressive way. And we did that. We were strong, brave, and went after the game in a really, really hard away from the first minute right up until the 120th minute.”

That Bradley missed a PK will howl to the moon in Toronto to the wee hours of this Sunday morning, and his critics will be happy to join in. But as the 29-year-old prepares for a winter that could see him head across an ocean before returning for World Cup qualifying and another MLS season, Toronto can be happy to put its faith — and its backbone — in No. 4.

Follow @NicholasMendola

3 key battles to watch in MLS Cup final

Left: Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP | Right: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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One club will make history on Saturday night north of the border as Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders vie for their first MLS Cup title.

[ MORE: PST roundtable discusses key topics ahead of MLS Cup ]

While both teams enter the final in fine form, PST takes a look at which players and matchups will influence the game’s outcome the most.

Osvaldo Alonso vs. Michael Bradley

It may not be the sexiest matchup in terms of watching but these two midfielders have a lot in common other than their lack of hair. In addition to his three goals and four assists during the regular season, Alonso has been the heart and soul of the Sounders midfield for several years, particularly in 2016. Meanwhile, Bradley has had a similarly strong season for TFC as he anchors the midfield.

Both teams feature strong backlines and some of the league’s top attackers, but these two players certainly provide stability in the midfield, which will be vital in the frigid conditions at BMO Field on Saturday night.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Jordan Morris vs. TFC backline

The story of the Sounders in 2016 is that of a fairytale, but the one of Jordan Morris might be even more intriguing if he and his side goes on to win MLS Cup. All in one calendar year, Morris can potentially be an NCAA champion, MLS Rookie of the Year and MLS Cup champion, a feat that seems pretty incredible when considering what the Sounders have endured in 2016.

Morris will likely have his chances against the TFC, which gave away several clear-cut opportunities to the Impact in the East final, but he’ll have to capitalize for the Sounders in order for them to win it all.

Sebastian Giovinco vs. Sounders backline

It’s easier said than done to try and contain the Italian striker but that’s what the Sounders will have to do in order to hoist the title. Although the emergence of Jozy Altidore has greatly helped the TFC attack and Giovinco, in particular, so that opposition can’t solely zone in on him, Giovinco remains the top threat for the hosts. Giovinco notched 17 goals and added 15 assists in 2016, meaning he’s not only a danger in front of goal but also a worry for the Sounders when it comes to playing the role of provider.

With Altidore’s emergence as of late it makes the challenge of stopping Giovinco all the more difficult, but the Sounders will likely have to keep at least two bodies around the Italian at times in order to throw him off of his game. Otherwise it could be a very long night for the Cascadia side, who likely watched as TFC put up five goals at home against the Montreal Impact in their Eastern Conference final second leg.

An all-timer: Toronto onto MLS Cup Final, outlasting Montreal in thriller

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in (more than) 100 words: The thrills didn’t relent over 90 minutes in Toronto, and they had no choice but to give the fans more.

In front of a rambunctious BMO Field crowd, Toronto and Montreal took the 3-2 first leg in Quebec and flipped it on its ear in regulation.

Jozy Altidore backed up his big words, bulling his way around the field, clobbering Impact players in both legal and illegal fashion.

Ignacio Piatti was effective even when he stumbled for the visitors, keeping pace with his MVP-caliber season.

[ MORE: Sounders win the West ]

The first chance of overtime fell to Piatti, and Clint Irwin stopped the cross from reaching substitute Didier Drogba. The next twist came via withdrawal, as Sebastian Giovinco had to be substituted in the first period of extra time.

With names like Drogba, Bradley, Piatti, Altidore, and Giovinco, of course you had Steven Beitashour and Benoit Cheyrou teaming up for the winner, right? Right?

The leg ended 5-2. The match? 7-5. Seattle, you’re coming to Toronto.

Seven moments that mattered

24′ — Piatti opens up TFC back line for Oduro — Ignacio Piatti was one of the best players in MLS this season, and the electric Argentine carried a Montreal counter deep into Toronto territory before sliding a pass onto the path of Oduro. Goalkeeper Clint Irwin could only get a piece of the ex-TFC man’s shot, and it was 4-2 on aggregate.

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38′ — Cooper cleans up the trash — Nick Hagglund’s header off a corner kick was cleared off the line by Hernan Bernardello, but the rebound kicked off Hagglund into the path of Cooper, who scored his first TFC goal to level the tie and put the Reds back within a goal of advancing to the final.

44′ — Jozy does it (again) — Another set piece, another goal for TFC. Sebastian Giovinco’s near post corner kick was turned just inside the pipe by the head of Jozy Altidore, who put Toronto in front.

53′ — Piatti flips the script — Piatti got one of his own to put Montreal back on the plane to Seattle, as Johan Venegas slipped him through and the Argentine’s mishit shot fooled Clint Irwin and trickled over the line.

68′ — Hagglund makes amends — The Xavier alum was partially at fault for Montreal going ahead, but Hagglund rose high to hammer a header home to put extra time back in play. More set piece woes for Montreal, but no one said this was an advertisement for defense.

98′ — Guess who? Cheyrou! — Reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco had to be subbed off in the first period of stoppage time, and his substitute scored moments later. Steven Beitashour swept a cross right into the thick of the box, and Cheyrou rose high to bury a header.

Man of the match: Altidore

Goalscorers: Oduro (24′), Cooper (37′), Altidore (45′), Piatti (53′), Hagglund (68′), Cheyrou (98′), Ricketts (100′)

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MLS preview: Rapids look to overcome deficit against Sounders

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Half of this year’s MLS Cup final will be determined on Sunday afternoon as the Western Conference final takes shape in the second leg.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

After taking a 2-1 lead in Seattle, the Sounders will head to Colorado to face the Rapids on Sunday with both sides hoping to advance to the MLS Cup on December 10.

The Rapids gained an lead in the opening leg through Kevin Doyle, with the goal potentially proving to be vital for Pablo Mastroeni’s side in the event that the match needs to be decided by away goals.

Dating back to August, the Sounders and Rapids have been among the league’s hottest sides, but have advanced to this point with very different playing mentalities.

Mastroeni has built a defensive stalwart, which has proven to be a nightmare for opposing attacks to break down. The Rapids allowed a league-low 32 goals during the regular season, but have allowed three goals in three games during the postseason.

Meanwhile, the Sounders have a top-class attack, led by rookie sensation Jordan Morris and Designated Player Nicolas Lodeiro, who joined the club midseason. Brian Schmetzer has completely turned the tide for the Sounders since taking over for the departed Sigi Schmid, and has done so without veteran attacker Clint Dempsey.

The Rapids have the opportunity to reach its third MLS Cup in 2016, with the club having hoisted the league trophy back in 2010.

However, the Sounders look to continue its dream season as they search for their first appearance in the final. The Sounders are one of seven MLS clubs that have never reached the MLS Cup title match, while both Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact will look to break that trend as they battle to represent the Eastern Conference.