The Seattle Sounders came a long way to win their first MLS Cup.
After a July 9 loss to the L.A. Galaxy, the Sounders had a 5-10-2 record, a .352 winning percentage.
Soon after, they replaced their coach Sigi Schmid with Brian Schmetzer.
They added midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro and suddenly they took off.
And on Saturday night, when Roman Torres booted home the decisive penalty kick, the Sounders had won their first MLS Cup, defeating Toronto FC after 120 minutes, including 30 minutes of extra time, without a goal.
The Sounders had no shots on target and directed only three at the goal in the game, but won 5-4 on penalty kicks.
The game was played in frigid conditions with temperatures about 28 degrees.
It was the first MLS Cup appearance for either team.
And yet the Sounders won with resolute defense and the goalkeeping heroics of Stefan Frei, a former Toronto FC player, who was named MVP of the game.
His save on a Jozy Altidore header in extra time turned out to be the difference. Frei seemed to reach behind him to knock the ball away.
“I thought the ball had eyes for that corner,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney said. “It seems like he pulled the ball from behind him. It was one of the great saves I’ve seen. He won the game for them. He was the MVP of the game.”
Said Frei: “You just try and see because sometimes you surprise yourself (with the) balls you can actually get. At this moment, you just have to try and go out and make the save. All credit goes to the goalkeeper coach and the other goalkeepers. We’ve worked our butts off all year, and to make a save like that, it’s an accumulation of all our hard work.”
The Sounders’ Cristian Roldan said: “It was probably one of the top (saves) for sure. I think that guy deserves it more than anyone else. For us to always rely on him, it’s incredible. He’s a great goalkeeper, better human, and for us to have him on our field and saving our butts day in and day out, we couldn’t be happier for him and the city.”
Frei also made one save during the penalty kicks phase.
Toronto FC defender Justin Morrow hit his kick off the crossbar and Torres followed with his championship-winning shot.
“As a goalkeeper, I’ve got to say I’m not a fan of PKs,” Frei said. “I guess somehow you have to decide the game, but for me, football is a team sport. That’s the beauty of it and it sucks that it has to come down to an individual. (Torres) actually missed a PK yesterday in training, but I’m glad he missed that one and not the one today.”
The Sounders’ midseason record was the second worst by any team that went on to play in the MLS Cup.
The worst was the 2002 New England Revolution, which was 4-9-1 through 14 games of a 28-game schedule, a .321 winning percentage.
Earlier on Saturday, Torres took a shot in the face from Toronto star Sebastian Giovinco and went down. “He’s a tough kid,” Schmetzer said.
Torres returned to finish the game. Giovinco was removed during the extra time and was replaced by Tosaint Ricketts, who provided some spark and set up Altidore’s big chance with a cross.
Vanney said that Giovinco was spent and had signaled to him that he was ready to come out.
It meant that Giovinco was not available for the penalty kicks.
Then again, the penalties might not have been needed if Frei did not make the save of the game.
“It looked like it was going to go in and then all of a sudden, here comes his paw and he gets a hold of it,” Schmetzer said.
“It was a tremendous save. There were a couple of other times I thought the ball could have gone in.”