TORONTO – Seattle Sounders FC’s Brian Schmetzer became the first coach to win both MLS and USL championships on Saturday night as the Sounders claimed the 2016 MLS Cup with a 5-4 victory in a penalty shootout against Toronto FC at BMO Field after the two sides had played to a 0-0 draw through regulation and overtime.
The 2002 USL Coach of the Year, Schmetzer led the Sounders to titles in the USL First Division in both 2005 and 2007 before becoming an assistant coach to Sigi Schmid when the side made the move to MLS in 2009. After being appointed first interim and then permanent Sounders Head Coach this season, claiming the club’s first MLS Cup left Schmetzer almost lost for words.
“No. That’s the easy answer, that’s the short answer,” Schmetzer said when asked if he could sum up what Saturday’s victory meant. “I think it’s going to take a while to sink in. What I do know, or the words that I can come up with, is I’m awfully proud of those guys. They’re obviously very happy in that locker room. I’m very happy for the traveling support. I’m very happy for the fans that couldn’t make the trip out here and see the game live. I’m sure there were a ton of people watching in Atlantic Crossing and some of the other bars that were viewing the game.
“I’m proud, I’m happy, I’m thankful for the opportunity that Adrian [Hanauer] and Joe [Roth] gave me, so that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure 10 years from now I’ll be able to really reflect and really make sure I really soak this in because it was a tremendous moment, and one that may never come around again.”
The Sounders showed resilience throughout against TFC, with former PDL standout Stefan Frei accounting for seven saves to keep the game scoreless through 120 minutes of action, including an outstanding stop on a save by Jozy Altidore in overtime that eventually sent the game to a shootout.
“It looked like it was going to go in, and then all of a sudden here comes his paw and he gets a hold of it,” said Schmetzer. “It was a tremendous save.”
Frei then gave the Sounders the edge in the shootout when he saved from Michael Bradley in the second round, but former USL goalkeeper Clint Irwin got things back on level terms when he saved from Alvaro Fernandez.
When Justin Morrow hit the crossbar for Toronto in the opening round of the shootout’s sixth round, however, the chance to clinch a victory presented itself and Roman Torres fired home to give the Sounders their first MLS Cup.
“I think at the beginning of this year when we started out in preseason we knew we had a good team, a veteran team, and the reasons for the slow start, we can pick that apart. I think the base was always there, and they found a way to win,” Schmetzer said. “They found a way to persevere in tough situations and guys like Ozzie [Alonso] are part of that. His determination on half a leg, because he’s got a pulled tendon in his knee, it’s just testament on how much Ozzie wants to win. I can’t be any more proud or happy that he’s in our club.”
Alonso, the 2008 USL Rookie of the Year with the Charleston Battery, and Zach Scott, who competed for the Sounders in the USL prior to the club’s move to MLS, both enjoyed the celebration following the contest, with Alonso battling through injury in a standout captain’s performance.
Given his long-term vision for the side, Saturday belonged to the likes of Schmetzer and the club’s fans, some of whom packed into the away section at BMO Field.
“It means a lot to me,” said Schmetzer. “I think I share it with the entire team. When I took over, we had conversations with each and every player and the guys who weren’t featuring in the 18, some of the young guys that have trained hard all year, some of the veteran guys like Herculez Gomez who didn’t get into the game tonight.
“We’ve got young players that keep pushing, pushing, pushing, driving the level of training up. The championship is for all of those guys, so for me, I’m happy for them, and to repeat myself, I’m really happy for the fans. They’re the ones that really, truly deserve it. I think the relationship between the fans and the players is what makes this club special, and so I’m happy for them.”