SEATTLE — For a decade, fans of the Seattle Sounders have turned out in record numbers to cheer their team.
They have come in the rain and in the wind, in the sunshine and in the cold, and they have roared as their beloved Sounders have won (often) and lost (less so). They have seen their team advance to the playoffs 11 years in a row, the longest active streak in Major League Soccer, and they even got to see them win a title in 2016.
But Sunday was different. On Sunday, the Sounders, who have been one of the most consistently successful franchises since joining the league, beat Toronto F.C., 3-1, at CenturyLink Field and finally got a chance to celebrate a title on their home turf, in front of their fans.
“I’m going to take it in, I’m going to get a little emotional, because it’s really a good moment for the city of Seattle, the fans,” Coach Brian Schmetzer, a Seattle native, said. “These fans deserve it. Those players deserve it.”
This was the third time in four years that Seattle and Toronto F.C. had faced off in M.L.S. Cup; Seattle won the first meeting in a penalty-kick shootout three years ago, then lost to Toronto, 2-0, a year later. Both games were held at Toronto’s BMO Field. (Atlanta United won last year.)
So maybe that was why, moments after the final whistle blew, and as the Seattle players bounced up and down at midfield, the crowd of 69,274 — a record for a sporting event at CenturyLink — gave a more full-throated rendition of “We Are the Champions” than usual.
While the setting was different for the third Seattle-Toronto final, the game had a familiar feeling from the opening kickoff. Once again, Toronto was the aggressor, controlling much of the possession, patiently knocking the ball around in Seattle’s half, waiting for an opening. Once again, the Sounders were content to sit back and absorb the pressure, then charge forward in a furious counterattack whenever they managed to get the ball back. And once again, it seemed, the only things missing were goals.
That changed in the 57th minute, with a stroke of luck for Seattle, as Kelvin Leerdam smashed a hard shot that deflected off Toronto defender Justin Morrow and past his wrong-footed goalkeeper to give Seattle a 1-0 lead.
The substitute midfielder Victor Rodriguez added a goal in the 76th minute, and Raul Ruidiaz added a third in the 90th minute. When the Toronto striker Jozy Altidore pulled one back in injury time, the record crowd barely paused its celebrations long enough to notice.
The victory made Seattle the sixth team in M.L.S. to win multiple league titles, bolstering its status as one of the elite clubs in a rapidly changing league. Since the Sounders won their first title, M.L.S. has added four new teams.
The repeat matchup alone was a surprise, given the league’s reputation for parity, but all the more given changes to the playoff format this year. M.L.S. did away with its two-game series in the conference semifinals and finals this year, making every round an elimination game. To the surprise of many — though not all — it was playoff-tested Toronto and Seattle who emerged from the chaos.
Seattle embraced the chance to host the final. Fans fortunate enough to get tickets — the game sold out in a few hours — and those who did not packed the bars and restaurants around the stadium hours before kickoff at noon local time, then swarmed CenturyLink in waves of green.
The few decent looks either team managed early, though, were wasted; Toronto’s Jonathan Osorio pounded an open shot right at goalkeeper Stefan Frei in the 12th minute, and Seattle defender Roman Torres sent an attempt off a corner kick high over the Toronto goal.
The second half started out much like the first, but Seattle needed just one moment to turn the momentum. It came in the 57th minute, when Ruidiaz lofted a pass to Leerdam on the right side of the penalty area and Leerdam evaded a lunging Nicolas Benezet and smashed the ball toward the far post. The shot was traveling well wide of the goal when it caromed off Morrow’s leg and tucked inside the far post. It was the first goal Seattle had scored in any of its three finals, and the stadium shook.
Rodriguez doubled the lead after a nice exchange between Gustav Svensson and Nicolas Lodeiro, and Ruidiaz sealed it for good — tearing off his shirt and celebrating in front of the Sounders’ supporters section as the celebrations began in earnest.
“I’m so happy for today, for the M.L.S. Cup, for the M.V.P., and I’m proud for all my teammates because they helped me in the hard moments — because there were a lot of hard moments last season and this season,” said Seattle’s Rodriguez, the game’s most valuable player. “And we have to enjoy this moment because the Champagne is here, and it’s an amazing feeling.”