Roman Torres, Stefan Frei Come Up Big in Seattle Sounders MLS Cup Win

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TORONTO, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 10: Roman Torres #29 of the Seattle Sounders celebrates his championship winning goal against the Toronto FC in the 2016 MLS Cup at BMO Field on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Seattle defeated Toronto in the 6th round of extra time penalty kicks. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

In a game where the Seattle Sounders attack mirrored the frigid Ontario conditions, Roman Torres and Stefan Frei spewed hot fire all over the pitch.

The Panamanian defender in Torres and Swiss goalkeeper in Frei played crucial roles in Seattle’s 5-4 penalty shootout win over Toronto FC Saturday night. After 120 minutes of scoreless soccer, the match went to spot kicks. It was there where both Torres and Frei showed off their quality, clinching the first MLS Cup in the club’s eight-year history.

But it wasn’t just the PK shootout where they both came up huge. In many respects, the reason why Seattle progressed that far was due to their heroics leading up to that point. A simple glance at TFC’s offensive statistics should lend credence to that notion.

Roman Torres, Stefan Frei Come Up Big in Seattle Sounders MLS Cup Win

Stefan Frei: The Blanket in Front of Seattle’s Net on a Cold Night

The home-standing Reds outshot the Sounders 19-3, including a 7-0 edge in attempts on target. Buoyed by a BMO Field record crowd of 36,045, Toronto laid a veritable barrage of shots at Frei and the defense in front of him. Their dynamic tandem up top of Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore combined for ten. Altidore himself accounted for three of TFC’s seven that forced a save out of Frei.

Nevertheless, Frei remained steadfast in front of his goal. The Rave Green netminder was even more so in the 30 extra minutes played after the match ended scoreless after 90. Four of his seven parries were made during that time period.

The biggest of them all undoubtedly came in the 108th minute. Tosaint Ricketts, who had come on five minutes earlier for a gassed Giovinco, took advantage of a mistimed challenge from Torres. He then lofted the ball towards Altidore who headed it with quite a bit of arc towards the right side of goal. With Frei somewhat committed the other way, he somehow readjusted and swatted it with an outstretched left hand.

When asked about practically having to reach behind him in that fashion, Frei said that there are times when it comes down to simply winging it in order to keep the ball out of the net.

“Usually something will have broken down for you to have to do that,” Frei told Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated. “Sometimes, it’s just ‘throw technique out the window and try and make a save.'”

Frei also denied Michael Bradley in the second round of the penalty shootout. In the sudden death sixth round, he did benefit from Justin Morrow hitting the cross bar. But all in all, his exploits on the night fully warranted him taking home the MLS Cup MVP award.

Roman Torres: The Resolute Force of the Sounders Back Four

What Torres contributed cannot be forgotten as well. His skill set as a central defender was on full display. He spaced himself well throughout the game. Him and center back partner Chad Marshall were consistently on the same page. And on a night where the mercury dropped below zero in Celsius terms, he was putting out fires in every which way.

Below are two graphics (courtesy of MLSSoccer.com’s Opta chalkboard), one of which shows all of his defensive actions while the second shows that of the team’s as a whole.

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In total, Seattle finished with 165 defensive actions (recoveries [orange], interceptions [blue], clearances [purple], tackles [green] and defensive blocks [yellow]). Torres accounted for 12.72 percent of that total which was third best on the team.

Now it must be said that part of his high volume of defensive Opta events was the pressure Seattle absorbed for a good portion of Saturday’s match. But it also highlights Torres’ prodigious work rate in willing his team to victory.

He wasn’t done there. After all, it was his PK in the sixth round of the penalty shootout that beat TFC goalie Clint Irwin and clinched things for the Sounders. And when that ball crossed the goal line and rattled the back of the net, the small but vocal contingent of supporters from the Emerald City in the upper corner of BMO Field’s city end were sent into rapturous celebration.

For MLS Cup to have ended this way must have felt super sweet for Torres. Acquired by the Sounders on August 12, 2015, he suffered a torn ACL a month later and waited nearly a year to return. But as the 2016 season reached its home stretch, him and Marshall blossomed into one of the league’s better center back pairings.

That, among other things, came together at the right time for this club, culminating in a championship.

Emerald City Triumphant

For a city with such a rich soccer history dating back to the 1970s, Saturday’s historic victory was a long time coming. Though the Sounders have taken home four U.S. Open Cups since joining MLS in 2009, a league title had eluded the team even going back to those early NASL days. Suffice it to say, generations of soccer fans from the city of Seattle have been waiting for a night such as this.

Their head coach Brian Schmetzer has seen it all. A former Sounders player and a long-time Seattle soccer personality, he was thrust into a whirlwind when the organization decided to let go of Sigi Schmid. Though some might say he lucked out with the club acquiring Nicolas Lodeiro in the summer transfer window, it honestly wasn’t Lodeiro who came up aces this weekend.

Those accolades belonged to Torres and Frei.

Schmetzer said it best post-game.

“Some people say defense wins championships,” he told Agence France-Presse. “You couple Roman’s performance with Stefan Frei, who came up massive with that one save. And then in the penalty kick shootout he made the save that he needed to make.”

Over the course of 120 minutes and a six-round penalty shootout, these two talented but lesser heralded players on the roster made their mark. It’s the reason why a cold, wintry December night north of the border will forever be etched with laser-like clarity into the minds of Sounders supporters.

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