TORONTO — They did it. On the eighth attempt in eight MLS seasons, the Seattle Sounders finally broke through for their first MLS Cup.
They rose from last in the West in July, before a coaching change (from Sigi Schmid to longtime MLS assistant Brian Schmetzer) and the addition of playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro. And they were ninth as recently as September.
But after Saturday's penalty-shootout victory over Toronto FC at BMO Field, Seattle are MLS champions.
"Guys were so even-keeled," midfielder Brad Evans said. "We were so close on so many occasions to getting on the right side of results, that we felt more unlucky at times. We never came in and [pointed fingers]. It was like, 'All right, it's going to swing our way and we're going to go on a good run of form.' And we did that."
The game, for Seattle, was one of weathering pressure without wilting. Toronto FC started attack-oriented Jonathan Osorio over defensive-minded Will Johnson, chasing a strike that proved elusive as they poured in seven shots on Seattle 'keeper Stefan Frei. Some dangerous, some spectacularly saved, some simply duds
And yet the Sounders, sitting back on the counter, couldn't cobble together enough offense to send a shot on target; not in regulation or stoppage time or the extra 30 minutes added on before penalty kicks decided MLS Cup for a fourth time in 21 seasons.
"I honestly thought, 'We've come this far, why not win this thing?'" said Seattle general manager and president of soccer Garth Lagerwey. "My perspective is jaded — this is my third MLS Cup in sudden-death penalties, as apparently penalties aren't even good enough to lessen the drama."
The dramatics ended with Toronto's Justin Morrow hitting the crossbar, and the Sounders' Roman Torres following with a similarly placed – though successful – rocket to cap off Seattle's astounding six-month ascension.
The championship was extra sweet for Schmetzer, a former Sounders player (NASL, 1981-83) and the team's head coach during a 2002-08 USL run before joining Schmid's staff as an assistant and getting promoted earlier this season. He earned an extension during the Western Conference Semifinals, after Seattle opened their playoff run with a pair of victories over Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas.
And now he's the head coach of an MLS champion.
"That went from potentially one of the worst to what will go down as one of the best stories in Sounders lore," said "Mr. Sounder" Zach Scott, who announced he'd retire after the season, and now does so as an MLS champ. "Schmetz actually said at the end of the game, 'What an ending!' And I said, 'What a beginning!'"