The MLS Cup Championship between the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC was decided on a penalty kick shootout following a scoreless draw in regulation and extra time.
Toronto had actually outplayed Seattle for most of the contest, but the Sounders defense refused to give anything up, keeping their chances alive. Stefan Frei, Seattle's goaltender, was able to garner six saves during regulation and extra time, but made the key, most important stop during the deciding penalty kicks, thus securing the title for Seattle.
This marks the first MLS championship for Seattle,a club that joined the league in 2009, after playing for years in smaller, lesser leagues. Still, Seattle has earned some distinguished achievements, including having qualified for the playoffs for each season of their existence, as well as having won US Open Cup titles.
Still, they had never before made it as far as the MLS Cup Championship prior to this season. By crowning their season with their first championship, the Sounders have finally earned the crowning achievement in North American soccer by capturing the championship.
Perhaps what made it even sweeter was the knowledge that, for most of the season, the Sounders looked terrible, and flirted with the very real possibility of not qualifying for the postseason for what would have been the first time in franchise history. After 20 games, they had a mark of 6-12-2, and seemed firmly out of the playoff race.
However, Seattle got rifd of head coach Sigi Schmid and replaced him with Brian Schmetzer. Also, Nicolas Lodeiro, a key player in Seattle's late season success, arrived in late July, and the franchise's fortunes this season turned for the better. In their final 14 games, they compiled a record of 8-2-4, and were able to get as high as 4th seed in the West, earning another playoff spot. Once in the postseason, Seattle just got hot, and they knocked out Sporting Kansas City, before beating FC Dallas in the semifinal round, and getting past the Colorado Rapids in the Western Conference Final to earn that elusive MLS Cup Final appearance.
Toronto had come in looking very hot offensively, although they could not get anything going against Seattle's tough defense, which came close to allowing goals, but ultimately never did.
MLS CUP PLAYOFFS Seattle Sounders defeat Toronto FC in shootout to win MLS Cup 2016 by Sam Stejskal Contributor, December 10, 2016:
Catching Up With Alexi Lalas
Surely, any even passive American fan of the sport remember Alexi Lalas. He was probably the most easily recognizable star of the US national team during the 1994 World Cup, which the United States hosted, and which helped to launch a new level of popularity for the sport. Prior to that World Cup, soccer was seen by most Americans as a fun game to play, but not to watch. That started to change with that particular tournament, and with the launch of a then fledgling new league shortly thereafter - the MLS, or Major League Soccer.
Lalas had a distinctive look, with his long red hair and goatee, and he was a strong presence on the field, as well.
Well, Lalas chopped off all that hair prior to the 1994 World Cup, which I did not know back then. He grew it back in time for the World Cup, although he did keep that hair in a bag, which he still has to this day. It might seem a bit bizarre, and might remind some of Andre the Giant's hair being kept in a clear plastic bag, and often shown off by the bad guy wrestlers of the old WWF.
In a recent New York Times article, Lalas discusses the MLS today, as opposed to when he joined it as a brand new league with humble roots, and he discusses the state of the troubled US national team today, and the challenges that it faces in trying to come up with an identity.
It is an interesting read, and so I provided the link so that you can take a look for yourself:
1994 World Cup, labeling you the “Carrot-Topped Defender of the U.S.”
Alexi Lalas on M.L.S., American Soccer and Where All That Hair Went By Andrew Das, Dec. 9, 2016: