Toronto FC

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Toronto FC adds Agudelo in Re-Entry Draft; Cincinnati picks Abdul-Salaam

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Few selections in Major League Soccer’s re-entry draft inspire true intrigue, but Toronto FC’s newest selection warrants a close look after what the Reds did in 2018.

The latest pick-up is Juan Agudelo from New England, and Toronto will be thrilled if he has the same impact as last season’s selection of Nick DeLeon, who scored 10 goals across all competitions in a career year. One of those was an MLS Cup-clinching wonder goal against Atlanta United.

[ MORE: MLS announces conference tweaks ]

The 27-year-old Agudelo is coming off two rough seasons in which he only scored three goals, but scored seven goals in each of his first three MLS seasons since returning from overseas, where he had signed for Stoke City but only appeared for FC Utrecht in the Netherlands having not gained a work permit.

Agudelo brings 28 USMNT caps and three goals to Greg Vanney’s Reds, and is now 27 years old.

The only other selection in Tuesday’s Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Draft was FC Cincinnati taking Saad Abdul-Salaam from Seattle Sounders, the former Akron man moving closer to where he starred in college.

Main takeaways from MLS contract deadline day

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Major League Soccer saw a lot of big names in the news as “Contract Deadline Day” played out across the U.S. and Canada.

— The New York Red Bulls watched two all-timers walk out the door, as Bradley Wright-Phillips did not get a new contract and the club declined its option on Luis Robles (STORY).

— Not a player move, but Austin FC announced the hiring of former NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna to the same position.

[ MORE: PST’s talk 1v1 with Reyna earlier this season ]

— Toronto FC is yet to reach a deal to keep Michael Bradley in town, but remains in contract talks with its captain. The same is true for Nicolas Benezet, while Drew Moor is out-of-contract.

— And that’s also what’s happening in Portland with Diego Valeri, the longtime star in talks with the team despite not having his option picked up.

Chicago Fire announced a new branding initiative, changing its logo from a classic crest to something else and dropping the SC for an FC. Like Columbus before them, everyone will still call them the fire and ignore the SC, FC, or whatever see. It’s what happens when you take a formal nickname.

The club also cut ties with playmakers Nico Gaitan and Aleksandar Katai.

— Minnesota United remains in talks to bring back Reading loanee and reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year winner Vito Mannone, and that means longtime backstop Bobby Shuttleworth will hit the open market.

— Orlando declined its option on Dillon Powers, and also let the clock run out on the contract of one-time megastar Sacha Kljestan.

— Real Salt Lake did not reach an agreement with Kyle Beckerman on a new deal, though MLSSoccer.com thinks he’s still in the mix.

— New England is letting Juan Agudelo walk into free agency.

— Atlanta United exercised the contract option for Julian Gressel, but he’s being badly underpaid and the club needs to find salary room for a proper new deal.

— Thierry Henry is keeping his two brightest attacker, with Ignacio Piatti getting another year at the club and Saphir Taider seeing his loan from Bologna made permanent.

— The Philadelphia Union did not exercise their option on Marco Fabian, and are letting Haris Medunjanin leave without a new deal.

— Roman Torres did not see his option exercised by the Sounders, and Kim Kee-hee is also leaving the club.

— Sporting KC waves goodbye to Seth Sinovic, Krisztian Nemeth, Benny Feilhaber, and Gedion Zelalem.

Berhalter trims USMNT roster to 23, Pulisic out

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Here we go!

Gregg Berhalter has taken the axe to his training camp roster and announced the 23 men who will hopefully lead the USMNT into the CONCACAF Nations League semifinals.

[ MORE: How USMNT can beat Canada sans Pulisic, Bradley ]

The Yanks need to beat Canada in Orlando on Friday and then Cuba in the Cayman Islands four days later, having lost to the Canucks 2-0 in Toronto and blasted Cuba in Washington, D.C.

Christian Pulisic will miss the match with a hip injury, Berhalter confirmed shortly after the press release.

Doesn’t sound great, to be honest, if only because his name’s not on the list. Why not just name 24? Surely, because there are rules!

The USSF also announced that Michael Bradley suffered an ankle injury playing for Toronto FC in the MLS Cup Final and is unavailable for duty.

[ MORE: Liverpool’s title to lose ]

Berhalter sent Corey Baird and Chase Gasper home, electing to call-up MLS Cup winners Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan.

Here is the full roster, again without Pulisic:

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United, Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Matt Turner (New England Revolution)

Defenders: John Brooks (Wolfsburg), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Sergiño Dest (Ajax), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United, Walker Zimmerman (LAFC)

Midfielders: Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Weston McKennie (Schalke), Alfredo Morales (Fortuna Düsseldorf), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew)

Forwards: Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Tyler Boyd (Besiktas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)

Seattle players, coach credit bravery for MLS Cup win

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Toronto FC came to CenturyLink Field and maintained 65% possession on the road, completing 497 passes to the home side’s 217.

And yet, Seattle matched Toronto shot for shot, and ultimately came away with the season’s biggest prize via a 3-1 win in the MLS Cup final. Christian Roldan admitted “it wasn’t our plan” to concede so much possession, yet it did not phase the hosts.

“First of all, I just want to say that we don’t, our team, our club, we don’t operate in the realm of fear,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said to begin his post-match press conference. “We don’t do that, we address problems, we overcome, we try and be better at everything that we do and I think we respect our opponents, but we don’t have any fear.”

Being brave and overcoming the early Toronto wave of pressure was a common theme among the players and coaches following the win. “Today was a day we didn’t play our best game, but we fought and we kept going,” said goalkeeper Stefan Frei. “Yes, maybe we didn’t have a season like LAFC, but honestly in the end, I could care less how pretty we play. [Forget] possession and all those other stats. In the end we got another star and that’s what matters.”

Midfielder Christian Roldan trumpeted not only his team’s grit, but also their ability to adapt to different scenarios, all while remaining stout at the back. “The whole playoffs I feel like we were down possession, and we played three games at home,” Roldan said after the win. “That’s unlike Seattle, right? The fact of the matter is we won those games. We found ways to win and I think that’s what makes this team so special. We played in many different ways throughout the year and in the postseason. That’s an example of why this team is so special.”

Despite the hefty possessional disadvantage, Seattle finished with 14 shots, exactly as many as Toronto collected, and they picked up one more shot on target, winning that battle 6-5. They also amassed a whopping 10 corner kicks to Toronto’s four and won the expected goal count by a significant margin, 1.63-0.93.

“We just come out and play our game,” said forward Jordan Morris, who overcame a torn ACL last season to collect 10 goals and six assists this season, plus another three in the playoffs. “I think some people didn’t think we’d be here at the beginning of the playoffs and the last couple of games, we just wanted to prove that we deserve to be here.”

Not only did the Sounders prove they belonged, they proved worthy of the trophy.

Seattle 3-1 Toronto: Sounders lift MLS Cup again (video)

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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.

[ VIDEO: USMNT’s DeAndre Yedlin talks goal, celebration for Newcastle ]

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.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Raul Ruidiaz

Goalscorers: Leerdam (57′), Rodriguez (76′), Ruidiaz (90′), Altidore (90’+3)