For over 12 months, Toronto FC had been the best team in Major League Soccer. But for over 12 months – and particularly for the last 364 days – it had been made to wait for its moment. This moment.
It waited for Jozy Altidore to bend his run and sprint through on goal. It waited for Sebastian Giovinco to dink a perfectly weighted ball into his path. For the American striker to lift his finish over Stefan Frei, and wheel around the back of the goal. For the pandemonium. For an MLS Cup.
On Saturday, it got all of that.
— Toronto FC (@torontofc) December 9, 2017
Altidore, after bringing the final back to Toronto on a bum ankle last week, did what no TFC player had been able to do for 185 minutes – 120 last year, and 65 Saturday at BMO Field. He beat the previously impeccable Frei with a clever left-footed shot, and wrote the final chapter of a storybook revenge tale.
Victor Vazquez sealed the decisive 2-0 victory late, after the flares had already been lit and a full night of ecstasy had begun.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) December 9, 2017
The rematch between Toronto and the Seattle Sounders was 90 degrees different than last year’s encounter, which ended on penalties after a 0-0 stalemate. That was no-way traffic. This was one-way traffic.
Toronto came in waves, and never really stopped coming. It broke inside 90 seconds, and Drew Moor miscued a point-blank header off the ensuing corner. Giovinco and Altidore combined well five minutes later, but the Italian’s shot was weak.
Frei was tested early and often. He was never forced into a single world-class save. But he was forced into save after save after save. Jonathan Osorio sliced a left-footed shot on goal, but Frei was equal to it. Vazquez sprung Giovinco with a brilliant cross-field ball, but Frei tipped Giovinco’s try past the far post as BMO held its collective breath. He then denied Vazquez from range.
The script appeared to be written, with Frei as the hero once again. The 31-year-old Swiss goalkeeper etched his name in Sounders lore with The Save deep in extra time last year, and then in the penalty shootout. This time, it was The Saves.
For the entire match, as it had been for the entire season, Toronto was dominant. But it could not find a goal. It tried everything. It had a penalty claim denied in the second half. The Sounders managed their first shot on goal in 150 minutes of MLS Cup finals against Toronto in the 30th minute. They had only two on the night. Toronto had 11.
Manager Greg Vanney, voted MLS’s best after a historic 68-point regular season, made a bold tactical call, switching from his tried and trusted 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. It overwhelmed Seattle in the center of the park, and yielded chance after chance.
For 65 minutes, it simply enabled Frei’s brilliance. But the story whose ending was ultimately written was a stirring one as well: Altidore, the man vilified for his contributions to the biggest failure in U.S. men’s national team history, but revered in Canada, validating TFC’s and Toronto’s faith. Michael Bradley, similarly vilified, the best player on the field for a second MLS Cup final in a row. An ambitious, expensive, worst-to-first project complete. The 364-day wait over, and totally worth it.
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