No shots on goal, no problem for the Sounders as they win first MLS Cup
After witnessing a nervy, excruciating 120-plus minutes of soccer in Saturday’s MLS Cup final, all I really wanted was to look at the game anew – to find something fresh and interesting to say about the Sounders and the match. But as I have many times this season, I keep going back to the same conclusion: the Sounders’ revolution that led them to the MLS Cup trophy started when they figured out how to win, even when it looked nearly impossible.
Impossible seems like a strong word, and it certainly didn’t feel likely that the Sounders would find a winner in this match. They had some chances, sure, but they had the familiar look of a team that was simply out of ideas. Seattle somehow even broke a couple records in this match. They were the first MLS Cup finalists AND winners to make zero shots on goal, and they also took the fewest total shots of a team in an MLS Cup final.
This is at the same time funny and sad – the Sounders’ performance on offense was dire, but they more than made up for it with a stout, heroic defense. After all, when you know you’ll be on the ropes, why not prepare for the worst?
Watching the Sounders attack Toronto was an exercise in futility. They’d push into the final third, but the real creativity – the so-called “final ball” – just wasn’t there for Seattle. Jordan Morris would latch onto a long ball from a teammate, but he’d cross it to nobody or get tackled by a defender before making a decision.
The passing wasn’t there for most of the players, either. Nicolas Lodeiro’s might have been at its worst since he arrived in Seattle.
But what did the Sounders do right? Defense, defense, defense.
I, like many, talked before the match about how one of the top narratives would be Toronto’s vicious attack versus an organized, Seattle defense. Toronto had numerous chances, culminating in seven full shots on goal – but zero goals. As frustrating and upsetting as it was to watch Seattle attack, to watch them defend was, dare I say it, soccer at some of its heroic best.
Casual fans and those popping in to watch their first Sounders game on Saturday were probably a bit disillusioned with the game, simply because of the scoreline. It can be hard to accept that 0-0 draws are exciting or interesting to watch. But this wasn’t just another 0-0 draw. This was the soccer equivalent to a long pitchers’ battle or a drawn-out defensive battle in football.
When Tyrone Mears came flying out of nowhere to snatch the ball away from the best player in the league, that’s heroic soccer. When Chad Marshall, after playing nearly 120 minutes of the MLS Cup final in 20 degree weather, kept pace with freshly substituted Tosaint Ricketts to force him to shoot wide, that’s heroic soccer.
But the platonic ideal of heroic soccer, and the epitome of the “finding ways to win” philosophy, was Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei. The player who was tossed aside by Toronto FC came back to haunt his former team, both in his excellent open-play saves and his work in the penalty shootout for the Sounders. Frei played like a hero, not just doing his job, but doing much more. His epic save against Jozy Altidore’s late header literally saved the game for the Sounders, since it kept out Toronto’s best chance of the entire match.
The shootout decided the game, but the Sounders don’t even make it that far without Frei’s save. He was the man of the match, and he should be paraded around Seattle like a king during Tuesday’s parade.