Altidore the hero again as Toronto FC wins MLS Cup, avenges 2016 loss to Seattle

TORONTO — Jozy Altidore scored in the 67th minute and Victor Vazquez added a stoppage-time goal Saturday as Toronto FC completed a record-breaking season with a 2-0 win over Seattle in the MLS Cup final, avenging a penalty shootout loss to the Sounders in last year’s championship game.

Toronto dominated in a performance brimming with confidence and intent before 30,584 on a warmer-than-expected late afternoon at BMO Field. Seattle was on the back foot almost from the get-go.

It had been one-way traffic for Toronto, but the home side — like in last year’s final — was unable to beat Seattle’s superb ’keeper Stefan Frei. That changed midway through the second half after a Sounders turnover deep in the Toronto end was sent back the other way at pace. Sebastian Giovinco split the defence with a pass and Altidore chipped the ball over an onrushing Frei.

Altidore, who had scored the winning goal last time out despite rolling his ankle in the Eastern Conference final against Columbus, headed towards the southwest corner for a repeat celebration that saw him swallowed up by jubilant teammates.

Altidore was named the game’s most valuable player for his performance.

“This is the greatest city in the world,” Altidore said after receiving his MVP award on the field.

“This is for you guys, we love you guys,” he added as the crowd chanted “Jozy, Jozy.”

The Sounders had not conceded a goal in 609 minutes, a run that dated back to a 2-0 loss in Philadelphia on Oct. 1. Seattle had posted shutouts in 12 of its previous 18 games, including the last six.

Seattle’s post-season shutout run was even longer — an MLS playoff-record 714 minutes dating back to the second leg of the 2016 Western Conference final against the Colorado Rapids.

Frei, whose personal shutout streak in the post-season ended at an MLS-record 624 minutes, had posted five straight playoff shutouts.

Vazquez made it 2-0, knocking the ball in the 94th minute after Armando Cooper’s shot hit the goalpost. The south stand lit up immediately as supporters lit flares to celebrate.

Saturday’s win completed an unprecedented treble for Toronto, adding the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy to the Supporters’ Shield symbolic of the best regular-season record — in this case the league’s best regular season ever — and the Voyageurs Cup as Canadian champions.

While Toronto enjoyed a record-breaking regular season, the playoff road to the final proved to be a grind. TFC came into the game just 4-3-2 since mid-September, outscoring the opposition 14-13.

Normal service resumed Saturday.

Toronto dropped centre back Eriq Zavaleta to the bench, switching to a 4-4-2 from its more normal 3-5-2 formation. That made room for both Jonathan Osorio and Marky Delgado in the diamond-shaped midfield, with captain Michael Bradley shielding the backline.

Seattle stuck with its 4-2-3-1 formation with centre back Roman Torres returning from suspension. That set up a domino effect with Gustav Svensson moving from defence to holding midfielder and Nicolas Lodeiro advancing to an attacking midfield role. Joevin Jones dropped back to fullback, consigning Cameroon defender Nouhou to the bench.

It was the Frei show in the first half as the Seattle ‘keeper made save after save to keep the Sounders, struggling to keep up with a vibrant Toronto attack, in the game.

Toronto outshot Seattle 19-7 (3-0 in shots on target) in last year’s final and Frei faced 12 shots (six on target) in the first half alone Saturday.

It was a rapid-fire opening with Toronto bullying the midfield and moving the ball at speed. Frei had to make big saves on both Osorio, Giovinco (twice), Vazquez and Delgado in the first 40 minutes. Toronto’s passing, with Vazquez pulling the strings, and constant motion made the Sounders’ defence look slow and vulnerable.

Toronto had eight shots (4-0 in shots on target) before Seattle’s Jones finally put a shot on goal in the 30th minute — an easy save for Alex Bono. It was the Sounders’ first shot on target in 150 minutes over the last two finals.

Toronto had 63.8 per cent possession in the first half.

Steven Beitashour shot high early in the second half as the Toronto onslaught continued.

And when Seattle came down the other end, Bradley — often playing as a central sweeper — was there to nip the attack in the bud.

The fans wanted a penalty when Justin Morrow went down in the Seattle box, but referee Allen Chapman had no problem with the Kelvin Leerdam challenge.

Frei survived a close call when a long-range Bradley shot bounced off his chest in the 60th minute. Then the Seattle ‘keeper parried away a Giovinco shot in the 64th in a sequence that saw Torres and Altidore go after each other.

Giovinco deserved a penalty in the dying minutes when he was sent flying by a Seattle defender in the box. But the referee disagreed. Giovinco stayed down with what looked like cramps.

Under Major League Soccer’s collective bargaining agreement, the Cup winners share US$275,000 while the losers divide $80,000.

Seattle, which limped out to a 2-5-4 start this season, strengthened its roster this year with defenders Leerdam, Svensson and Nouhou, midfielders Victor Rodriguez and Harry Shipp and forward Will Bruin.

Toronto added Vazquez and French-born Congolese defender Chris Mavinga. Bono took over from Clint Irwin in goal.

Toronto’s Greg Vanney, the MLS coach of the year, came into the game having lost three MLS Cup finals as a player and one as coach. Two of those were decided in extra time and one on penalties.

Toronto (20-5-9) earned a league-record 69 points this season, dispatching the New York Red Bulls and Columbus Crew SC earlier in the playoffs.

The first team to clinch a spot in the playoffs this season, Toronto set franchise records for wins (20), goals scored (74), fewest goals allowed (37), shutouts (13), home wins (13), home points (42), road wins (7) and road points (27).

Toronto came into the final having lost just twice at BMO Field this season, to Montreal in the regular season and the Red Bulls in the playoffs.

Seattle (14-9-11) finished 16 points behind Toronto in the regular season. The Sounders beat Vancouver and Houston to reach the final.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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