SEATTLE – As the week progressed, Adrian Hanauer’s appreciation for what was going on with his club and his city was growing.
Yet it was only in the final moments, when the Seattle Sounders held a three-goal lead in the MLS Cup title game, that Hanauer could look around and really take it all in.
“At 3-nil in stoppage time I was pretty confident,” said Hanauer, the Sounders’ majority owner. “But then they scored the goal and I didn’t know how much stoppage time was left and it was driving me nuts. Yeah, I was able to take some time today and this week to soak it in and appreciate it.”
The Sounders closed out their first decade as an MLS franchise by adding a second star to their crest, the result of a 3-1 win Sunday over Toronto FC to claim the MLS Cup title. Seattle also joined the fraternity of MLS clubs with multiple championships by winning its second title in four years, both coming at Toronto’s expense.
The Sounders weren’t the best team in the regular season this year. Nor were they in 2016, when they won their first title after making the playoffs as the No. 4 seed thanks to a midseason coaching change and furious second-half run.
This year, Seattle was a distant second to Los Angeles FC in the West. But that didn’t matter in the postseason and especially with the league’s new single-game playoff format.
“This team was immensely talented. I think it’s the best Sounders team of all time,” general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “We got through some hiccups by believing in ourselves. When we hit those bumps in the summer, we smoothed it out and kind of remembered, `Oh, we’re really good.’ And that’s what we proved.”
The final against Toronto seemed to highlight all that talent Lagerwey has acquired. Goalkeeper Stefan Frei, the star of the 2016 final win, made a critical left-handed save during Seattle’s uneasy first half to keep the game scoreless. The trio of Roman Torres, Kim Kee-hee and Gustav Svensson – from Panama, South Korea and Sweden respectively – managed to shut down Toronto’s offensive attack and keep Frei from facing many risky chances.
Kelvin Leerdam was an unlikely option to score Seattle’s first goal in the final, then again the defender had the Sounders’ first goal of the season in March.
But it was two of Seattle’s highest-paid stars coming through with the clinching strikes.
Victor Rodriguez arrived from Spain with great fanfare because of his upbringing in Barcelona’s academy. But he hasn’t reached that potential because of a string of lingering injuries. The lack of overall impact will be largely forgotten because of his goal in the 76th minute that gave Seattle a 2-0 lead. And then it was Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz’s turn to cap it off with his goal in the 90th minute.
“We didn’t play our best game, but we fought and we kept going,” Frei said. “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.”
Seattle now has two MLS Cups, a Supporters’ Shield and four U.S. Open Cup titles in just 11 seasons of existence. They helped define MLS when the club arrived in 2009 and believe the first decade is just the start.
“It’s important that we not only go for MLS Cup trophies, but Supporters’ Shield and Open Cup. In the past we have been a club that has won those types of trophies and it’s time we get back to it,” Cristian Roldan said. “Obviously, winning MLS Cup is nice, but it’s time to put Seattle up there with the great teams.”
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