Losing is always difficult.
The manner in which defeat comes can shade a loss between more or less painful, but in the end, it hurts, especially when there is a trophy on the line.
Toronto FC lost 3-1 to Seattle Sounders FC on Sunday afternoon in the 2019 MLS Cup Final at CenturyLink Field.
“I’ll start off by congratulating the Sounders, Brian Schmetzer, his staff, his team,” began Greg Vanney post-match. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to win the game and they won the game.”
That for much of the opening hour of play TFC were on the front-foot, made the final result all the more “frustrating” for Vanney and company.
“We were fluid, had good organization, they didn’t have a good answer for some of our movement and ball circulation. We got into a couple good spots to have looks at goals – probably not enough in the grand scheme,” detailed Vanney. “Too many times when we got into that final action we slowed down just a little bit and that allowed them to get numbers back, guys in position to block things, cut out crosses.”
“We played well,” he continued. “Minimized the amount of counterattacks in the first half; in the second half we were turning over the ball too much, ball movement slowed down, too many touches trying to make something out of nothing instead of letting the ball do the work. It got bogged down.”
“When it gets bogged down against a team that wants to play in transition you’re in trouble and when the game is physical like that it plays into the hands of the defending team,” he concluded. “A little bit of contact turns into a transition, it goes the other way, and you find yourself in trouble. That was the run of it. They executed many of their chances and that was the difference.”
The turning point in the match came in the 57th minute when Seattle found a chance to drive at Toronto’s goal and a Kevin Leerdam shot took a pair of deflections to open the scoring.
That TFC believed a foul went uncalled in the build-up only added to the displeasure.
“We’re in control of the game, we’re playing very well, definitely better than them. They get the goal – a deflection as well, unlucky – and it changes the momentum of things,” explained Jonathan Osorio, who thought himself impeded by Cristian Roldan to at the start of the move. “Their crowd gets into it again because [they] went away for most of the game. When the crowd gets into it, they breath life into their team, [Seattle] gets a little bit of confidence after the goal and it changes the game.”
The crowd, the momentum, it all turned against TFC in that brief moment.
“We’re sad,” admitted Alejandro Pozuelo afterwards. “We [played] a great game today, but after the first goal, psychologically, we were affected by that. After that Seattle didn’t really do much at their home field and because we were attacking, trying to find the goal, that’s when the other goals came.”
That it came so against the run of play too rankled.
“Until they scored in second half, I’m not sure they crossed midfield,” recounted Michael Bradley. “That was part of our frustration with the play in midfield. Up until that point we had been on top of things.”
“Pretty good first half, the second half had started, we were putting together some good stuff, we were in their end, and that play came as we had them pinned back and now they’re trying to get out,” explained Bradley. “For me, it’s a foul. That’s football, these things go both ways. In the moment, sure, there’s frustration, but that’s football.”
Seattle would add two more in the 78th and 90th minutes, from Victor Rodriguez and Raul Ruidiaz, respectively, before Altidore pulled one back in the third minute of stoppage-time, but it was that first goal that most encapsulated the feeling post-match.
“It was a gut-punch, just in terms of how we played: we dominated the game,” said Altidore. “It’s shades of 2016 a bit, just this time not in penalty kicks.”
Seattle won the MLS Cup in 2016 at BMO Field in a shootout, without a shot on goal through 120 minutes. Leerdam’s goal ended a Sounders scoreless run of 267 minutes against Toronto in a cup final.
“A gut-punch, no other way to put it,” Altidore repeated. “We took the game to them, had most of the play throughout, but football is 90 minutes. We switched off, they get a lucky goal, but at 1-0, what was our response? We were still not able to get a hold of the game.”
“This is what Seattle does, they’re very good at it. They’re a great team with a lot of very experienced players. They make it hard to play against,” he added. “If you’re not focused for 90 minutes, they make you pay. They’ve done that – it’s no secret – and credit to them for doing it to us again.”
Margins are always thin, more so as the importance of the game is ratcheted higher.
“Finals are tight,” summed up Bradley. “They’re: both teams step on the field, with everything to play for, concentration is at the absolute highest level. You always know that to break the game open, you’re going to need that extra bit of sharpness, that extra bit of quality, or a little bit of a break, a bounce, a deflection.”
“They got that today,” he continued. “They were able to use that to get the second goal, which really then tilts the bar in their favour. At that point we had no choice but to throw things forward.”
Despite the emotions of the moment, TFC were thankful of the travelling support, that painted a section, or four, of the stadium.
“The fans were unbelievable,” said Bradley. “That corner up there, nothing but red, we could hear them the whole time – from the moment we walked out until after the final whistle. They were amazing.”
“On behalf of everybody in here, we thank them for making the trip, for their support,” added the captain. “The relationship this team has with our fans, with the city, that part is special.”
Said Osorio: “In warm-ups I had goosebumps from them. They got me ready for the game. Our fans are the best by far. It’s just too bad we couldn’t bring the win back for them.”