TORONTO – On the night when Toronto FC needed a moment of magic the most, it was nowhere to be found.
Despite largely controlling proceedings throughout the 120 minutes of the MLS Cup final against the Seattle Sounders, TFC were unable to break through, going home empty handed after a 5-4 shootout loss to the Seattle Sounders.
Sebastian Giovinco, the 2015 MVP and focal point of Toronto’s attack, endured a frustrating night, stymied at nearly every turn by a physical Seattle defense. The Italian forward suffered six fouls – one shy of an MLS Cup record – and eventually ended his evening early when he was substituted in the 103rd minute.
Taking off such a potent attacker with a title on the line may have seemed like a head-scratching move at the time, but Toronto head coach Greg Vanney contended that his had had been forced by an injury to Giovinco.
“He couldn’t move,” Vanney said in his postgame press conference. “He looked at me. It’s not like I take him off because I want to. I look at him and he gives me the sign that he can’t go any more and when he feels like he can’t go, he feels like he’s more of a liability to the group than anything. That’s the decision. It’s not one that I generally want to make, but we had to.”
Toronto’s frustrating night did not end with Giovinco, who did not speak to the media following the loss. They were unable to convert any of their seven shots on target, and had another 10 blocked by Seattle’s defenders.
Their attacking futility was perhaps best summed up by two plays a minute apart in the second period of extra time. In the 107th minute, Giovinco’s replacement, Tosaint Ricketts skewed a volley just wide. One minute later, Jozy Altidore’s header from a Ricketts cross appeared to be looping into the top corner, only for Seattle ‘keeper Stefan Frei to paw it away at the last minute with a stunning acrobatic save, one that Vanney called “one of the great saves I’ve seen in a big moment.”
“I thought [it was going in],” Altidore said to reporters after the game. “It was a tough ball to begin with, I just tried to get something on it and he made a great save and he kept his team in the game. … It was going to take something even to win or in that case to keep them alive, and they got that play.”
Despite enduring such a frustrating evening going, there were already signs from the Toronto players that they were looking forward to replicating – and hopefully surpassing – the unprecedented success of their 2016 season.
“We did everything we could this season,” said Toronto defender Drew Moor. “It comes down to penalties, a coin flip essentially.
“We were the better team tonight; a little bit more quality in the final third and we win this game. It's such a great group of guys, as fun as I've had in my twelve years. [I’m] hoping we can pick up where we left off last season.”