Victor Rodriquez celebrates his goal. (Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
SEATTLE — Sometimes championship games can produce the most unlikely of heroes.
Take, for instance Seattle Sounders FC, which secured its second MLS Cup trophy in four seasons Thanks to a pair of players who scored seven times during the regular season.
Right back Kelvin Leerdam (five goals) and Victor Rodriguez (two goals) produced the second-half scoring heroics to boost Seattle to a 3-1 triumph over Toronto FC in the third title confrontation between the foes since 2016. Rodriguez, who played about a half hour, was named the game’s MVP.
Striker Raul Ruidiaz, who connected for 11 goals, added an insurance tally in the 90th minute to give the capacity crowd something more to cheer about.
A CenturyLink Field crowd of 69,274, which set records for the largest attendances in a sporting event, non-concert and Washington state, watched Seattle win its first MLS Cup at home. It had beaten Toronto FC for its only other league championship in 2016.
Ruidiaz, more known for his scoring prowess than playmaking, set up the first goal with a simple pass to Leerdam on the right side of the penalty area. Leerdam appeared to take a shot that toward the far post. The trajectory of the ball, however, changed when it deflected off a Toronto player and past goalkeeper Quentin Westberg into the back of the net.
Many soccer observers in the press box felt it should have been called an own goal, but it counted just the same, a goal for the host side.
Rodriguez, who replaced Brad Smith in the 61st minute, gave the hosts some breathing room in the 76th minute on a much more conventional goal. Nicolas Lodeiro set up Rodriguez, who drilled a shot through two defenders and into the lower right corner for a two-goal advantage. Rodriguez tallied only twice during the regular season.
Ruidiaz latched onto a long ball by Gustav Svensson. He beat a Toronto defender and nestled the ball into the back of the net. Ruidiaz was so hyped by the goal that he ripped off his shirt in celebration. He received a yellow card for that infraction in stoppage time.
Toronto FC pulled one back in the 93rd minute as the visitors got on the scoreboard via a goal by second-half substitute Jozy Altidore off an Alejandro Pozuelo three minutes into stoppage time.
In a marked contrast, the opening half wasn’t much to write home about.
Yes, both sides tried to play soccer, but were unable to solve the opposing defense.
Premium scoring chances were few and far between as Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei made the play of the half in the 36th minute, when he dived to his left to parry away Nicolas Benezet’s attempt.
On the other end of the pitch, Westberg produced a kick save and a beauty to deny Ruidiaz from point-blank range in the 45th minute.
Sounders FC attempted eight corner kicks in the opening 45 minutes but was unable to get of them close to being a dangerous shot, or any shot for that matter. Give credit to the Toronto FC backline and midfielders, who usually were in the way of a shot or positioning well to step a Seattle player from heading the ball home.