If you are still not convinced of what the defining moments of the Seattle Sounders’ run to the MLS Cup were, just consult the masses.
Thousands of fans gathered at the victory parade after Seattle knocked off Toronto in a shootout to win its first Major League Soccer title last December.
And when a highlight video from the championship match played on the big screen at the Seattle Center, there came loud, distinct roars hailing the two biggest sequences, separated by a mere 45 minutes.
First, it was Stefan Frei’s miraculous save.
And then came Roman Torres’ deciding penalty kick.
“Yeah, really cool,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “There will probably never be another final like we had with Toronto, especially because of the two teams, the atmosphere and the circumstances.”
The regular-season rematch of the MLS Cup is Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
Given all the pressure Toronto’s forwards put on the Sounders’ defense in regulation and overtime, it is almost mind-boggling how the home team did not finally punch one in.
Toronto’s best chance came in extra time.
Tosaint Ricketts darted down the right sideline and sent in a cross in the Sounders’ penalty box.
Jozy Altidore, one of the best in controlling the air in the MLS, not only read Ricketts’ pass perfectly, he saw that Frei had moved back to the center of the goal to try and stop a shot.
“Jozy does really, really well to get up,” Frei said. “I tried to get set, tried to get into the middle as much as I could, because you don’t know if (the shot) is going left or right.”
Altidore looped a header back against the grain — a looping shot that had eyes for inside the right post.
It looked like a sure go-ahead goal.
Then Frei intervened. He shifted quickly back to his left, lifted up, arched his back and swatted the ball away with his left hand.
“It was a desperation save obviously,” Frei said. “I just tried to claw it out.”
Roldan said his view of Frei’s magnificent save was slightly blocked. The only thing that he saw was the goalkeeper’s hands up in the air.
“I thought it was a routine save because he made it look so easy,” Roldan said. “Then I saw the replay when we got back to the hotel by checking Twitter and seeing the highlights. That is when I found out it was probably the best save I have ever seen.”
Many pundits label Frei’s save as the best in MLS Cup history, especially under the late-game circumstances.
Frei has watched the play a few times since last December. He has critiqued it, too. He has also heard some of the criticism.
“I got to the ball, and that was the most important thing,” Frei said. “I was also very happy with my feet there. I would have liked to get a stronger push off my left (leg) there. Some people argue I should have used my right hand, but I disagree actually, because if you reach the right arm over your head, it is hard to bend backward and push forward. My choice to go with the left (hand), which is my preferred hand, probably ended up working out.”
It ended up arguably being the best single play in Sounders history — one that will be recognized in a video tribute before kickoff Saturday.
TORRES’ QUICK KICK
Frei’s save only continued play. Somebody had to win it.
And this championship came down to a shootout in the below-freezing chill at BMO Field.
Both teams were up to the task, exchanging goals. Brad Evans, Andreas Ivanschitz, Joevin Jones and Nicolas Lodeiro all scored for Seattle.
But when Justin Morrow missed for Toronto to keep the scored tied at 4-4, up came center back Roman Torres, the burly, wild-haired Panamanian standout who had never tallied a goal in his career with the Sounders.
He put the ball down on the spot, took five steps back and waited for the referee to blow his whistle.
“As soon as ... the referee blew the whistle, I thought I would kick the ball right away,” Torres said. “I just wanted to get it over with.”
On Torres’ left, a bunch of Sounders stood huddled in anticipation. But they were not forced to wait for very long.
“He took it so fast,” Roldan said. “I couldn’t even think, to be honest. As soon as the ref blew the whistle, Roman was running.”
Torres took three short steps and unleashed a quick shot that Toronto goalkeeper Clint Irwin had no chance at. It was crushed — a line drive that tracked just below the crossbar.
As soon as it went in, Torres sprinted toward his teammates with his arms out.
“People recognize me because of the hair,” Torres said, “and then the last penalty that I was able to score and get the MLS Cup title for Seattle.”