Turnaround complete: Three keys as Seattle claims its first MLS title

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Extra kicks were needed in the shootout that decided the season. Jeff Kassouf on the Sounders' for MLS Cup triumph.

MLS Cup 2016 won’t go down as one of the most memorable, nor the prettiest. Certainly not for the BMO Field record-crowd of 36,045, who pretty quickly went from a raucous state of shaking the entire stadium as they cheered in the penalty-kick shootout.

Seattle prevailed, 5-4 in PKs after a scoreless match through 120 minutes. It was the first MLS Cup final to go scoreless through extra time. Seattle became the first team in MLS Cup history to put zero shots on frame in the match. And the Sounders three shots were the fewest ever in MLS Cup.

And yet, the Sounders lifted the MLS Cup trophy for the first time on Saturday, patiently weathering the mild storm which TFC presented.

These were the three keys to that shaped MLS Cup 2016:

Bradley neutralizes Lodeiro

First-half statistics showed a 7-0 shot advantage for Toronto FC, but outside of Jozy Altidore’s near-opener in the second minute, it was a relatively uneventful half. Michael Bradley played the role of both destroyer and distributor, and, most crucially, bottled up Sounders’ engine Nicolas Lodeiro in the middle of the park. Bradley tracked Lodeiro wonderfully off the ball and swarmed him anytime he was near it, playing to near perfection that No. 6 role which Bruce Arena wants him to occupy for the U.S. national team. That largely carried on throughout the game, which was a superb one for Bradley.

Sounders bend, but don’t break

Equally, Ozzie Alonso and Cristian Roldan were wonderful in tandem ahead of Seattle center backs Roman Torres and Chad Marshall, who combined to frustrate Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco for most of the night. That Sounders’ block of four was the reason the Seattle bent but never broke. The Sounders conceded space and the better of play on the wings, partly by plan (to let Lodeiro drift centrally) and partly by being outworked (Erik Friberg was lost). When the best player for each team is a defensive midfielder, it’s unlikely to be a sexy game for neutrals. But it was effective for both sides.

Game-changing moments

In a match with so few legitimate scoring opportunities, Stefan Frei made the two biggest plays of the match, and at the most important of times. First, he slapped away the ball when Torres’ ball-watching on a corner kick left Altidore open for a header inside the six-yard box. But it was in the second half of extra time that Frei made one of the most incredible – and certainly the most important – saves of the season, scooping away Jozy Altidore’s header which looked like it had surely already beaten the Sounders keeper. It was the highlight of the night and the lasting moment of a match which will go down in Seattle folklore.

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Jeff Kassouf is the editor of FourFourTwo USA. Follow him on Twitter @JeffKassouf.