Seattle Sounders players (pictured) rush to celebrate after prevailing over host Toronto FC on penalty kicks in the MLS Cup final on December 10, 2016. (Photo: Corky Trewin/Seattle Sounders)
TORONTO -- For the fifth time in their young history, the Seattle Sounders qualified for the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League.
This time the Sounders reached the competition in a different way. Instead of using the U.S. Open Cup as a path to the 2017/18 SCCL, they captured the MLS Cup to clinch a berth.
After playing to a scoreless draw over 120 minutes, Seattle won the shootout, 5-4, over Toronto FC at BMO Field on Saturday night.
"This means a lot," Sounders captain Osvaldo Alonso remarked. "We worked for this one a long time. This one feels more exciting than the Open Cup.”
The Sounders, who reached the knockout stage in each of the last three times they participated in the SCCL, including the 2012/13 semifinals, became the fourth and final U.S. team to clinch a spot in the tournament. They joined FC Dallas (U.S. Open Cup champion, Supporters’ Shield winner), Colorado Rapids (Supporters’ Shield runner-up), New York Red Bulls (Eastern Conference champion). Toronto FC previously booked a ticket to the SCCL by winning the 2016 Amway Canadian Championship.
"It doesn't matter what anyone says, we're the best in MLS," said forward Herculez Gomez, who scored six goals for Mexico’s Santos in the 2012/13 SCCL. "Now we have to go out to prove [we're] the best in the continent. It's not going to be easy because Mexican teams traditionally hold reign, so it will be difficult. But I think if any organization can do it, it's the Sounders."
Seattle was outplayed by Toronto FC, which held a 19-7 advantage in shots. The Sounders didn’t put a shot on target – an MLS Cup final record -- though it managed to shutdown Toronto's formidable front line of U.S. international Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco.
"We've done things the hard way this year," defender Brad Evans concluded. "We go to Kansas City. We get our butts kicked and we squeak out with a dribbler of a shot. Somehow, we found ways to win games and hold it to zero. We didn't create enough chances tonight, but we also didn't give up many high-quality chances in the back."