By Mark Polishuk, The Sports Xchange
TORONTO — Toronto FC capped off a record-setting season with its first Major League Soccer championship, recording a 2-0 victory over Seattle Sounders FC in the MLS Cup Final on Saturday evening at BMO Field.
Jozy Altidore’s 67th-minute strike clinched the game for the Reds, ending two years of scoreless frustration for the club in the MLS Cup Final.
Toronto largely outplayed this same Sounders team in the 2016 title game, but was unable to score over 120 minutes and eventually lost in a penalty kick shootout.
That tough defeat made a return trip to the Final into a year-long “obsession” for the Reds, in the words of team captain Michael Bradley.
“Everything was about getting back here. Every time I looked around, it was just every single guy (was) laser-focused to give ourselves another chance. I’m so proud of every single person who’s part of this,” Bradley said.
The opening half of Saturday’s game bore a strong resemblance to last year’s result, as Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei (the MVP of the 2016 Cup Final) again stifled Toronto’s attack. Frei made six saves in the first half alone, including knocking aside a hard shot from Marky Delgado in the 35th minute.
“Steph had to come up very, very big in the first half,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “I thought that once we were able to get into halftime, make some adjustments, I thought we would give ourselves a chance. The adjustments we made didn’t work, and at some point if you’re going to rely on your goalkeeper that often in so many critical moments, one of them was going to get through.”
The Reds’ constant pressure finally paid off in the second half. A series of passes up the field led to Sebastian Giovinco finding a rushing Altidore on his way toward net. Altidore found space amidst two Seattle defenders and fired a shot past Frei to put TFC ahead.
Altidore’s goal earned him MLS Cup MVP honors. The striker looked fully recovered from the ankle injury suffered during the second leg of the Eastern Conference final, though Altidore said all week that the issue wouldn’t keep him from playing in the Cup Final.
Midfielder Victor Vazquez scored in the dying seconds of added time for TFC, converting the rebound after an Armando Cooper shot deflected off the post.
The match was a one-sided affair, with Toronto holding a big edge, 22-7, in shots as well as an 11-2 advantage on shots on goal.
TFC held the Sounders in check with the four-man backline that the team has deployed at times during the playoffs, an adjustment to the 3-5-2 formation that the Reds used for much of the season.
The offensive and defensive performance was reflective of how Toronto FC dominated the regular season, leading the league in scoring while also conceding the second-fewest goals of any club.
TFC becomes the first team in league history to win the MLS Cup, the Supporters’ Shield and a national trophy (the Canadian Championship) in the same season. The Reds collected a league-record 69 points during the season, further enhancing their claim as the best MLS team of all time.
“I’m the first one to say I think it’s the greatest team ever,” TFC coach Greg Vanney said. “That’ll be a debate…but nobody has accomplished what this team has accomplished historically. We’ve won every championship along the way, set a points record, (and) the quality of the way in which this group went about their business over the course of the season.
“And, we’re not done yet. We still have things in front of us that we want to continue to achieve.”
Toronto FC is the seventh Supporters’ Shield winner to also capture the MLS Cup in 22 seasons of play. Shield champions have a 7-1 record when they do manage to reach the championship game.