Another decidedly non-memorable final. Maybe we get the finals we deserve. Scrappy, at times ill-tempered, incoherent -- all of which can be excused, will be excused by those who specialize in making excuses, as “competitive.” That sounds good, now doesn’t it?
The only problem being that it doesn’t look good.
Reading the stats is hardly the best way of appreciating a game, but take a look. Forty fouls, which is a lot, even for an overtime game. Look closer: who got fouled the most? Why, Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco got hit six times, and Seattle’s Cristian Roldan also took six hits, Nicolas Lodeiro took five.
Both teams will, I have no doubt, stoutly deny that Giovinco and Lodeiro, known as key creative players, were targeted. So be it, yet somehow they spent a lot of time on the ground. Must have been the icy surface, then, which most players handled remarkably well. Oh, I mustn’t forget -- anyway, commentator Brad Friedel wouldn’t allow us to forget -- that all creative players are suspect when it comes to physical play, maybe they don’t actually dive, but they do “go down very easily” -- a verdict Friedel leveled at Giovinco after he’d been bowled over by Osvaldo Alonso.
Ho hum. Anyway, there’s every reason to believe that the foul stats in this game understate the reality. When you have a referee like Alan Kelly who seems to officiate with a mathematical yardstick of whistling for every other foul, there will be a lot of physical play that is “let go.” Indeed, there was.
So Lodeiro and Giovinco suffered (Giovinco took two physical fouls within the first three minutes of the game), while the rough-house Alonso flourished, finishing with five fouls to his credit (is that the right word?). A couple of his fouls deserved a yellow card, but didn’t get it, and anyway he should surely have been carded for persistent fouling. He escaped that fate, too.
I felt certain that Kelly would only give cards late in the game, certainly not in the first half. I was wrong, but not my much. The first yellow came at the very end of the half -- Seattle’s Chad Marshall was the recipient. There were two yellows in the second half: at 72:00 to Joevin Jones, then at 93:00 (I mean, how’s that for late in the half?) to Michael Bradley. So, not much danger of Kelly having to do anything authoritative, like handing out a second yellow. And in a game featuring 40 fouls, just three yellows is suspiciously frugal.
(Should you want an explanation of the yellow card fouls, you can consult the MLS website, which will tell you that all three were for “unsporting behavior,” an explanation that tells you nothing, except that MLS seems intent on disguising what its naughty players are up to).
So intent was Kelly on letting things go that he committed what ought to be cardinal sin these days -- he completely disregarded the concussion protocol when Roman Torres was hit violently in the face by a Giovinco shot and, allowed play to continue.
When a game is this badly refereed, it can only get worse. Of course the players are going to realize that they have to get out a chainsaw to get sent off, or even cautioned. So the fouling continues. Michael Bradley was repeatedly getting into Kelly’s face; sure he had a case to make, but it was no stronger for Toronto than it was for Seattle. At least, Kelly’s ineptitude was applied equally to both teams.
A high point (actually a low point) was reached in the final minutes of overtime when Seattle’s Cristian Roldan broke upfield on a 50-yard run. Will Johnson tried to trip him at the halfway line, but Roldan managed to stay on his feet -- until he was within 10 yards of the Toronto penalty area when Nick Hagglund raced up, crudely barged into him and flattened him. Hagglund’s tackle, if that’s what it was, got nowhere near the ball.
A laughably obvious foul, and a dead cert yellow card. Kelly, trailing well behind the play, did nothing. But wait ... I’ll hand you over to commentator Brad Friedel for expert insight into this: “Most referees in MLS would always call that a foul -- it must be nice to have a referee who allows the play to carry on.”
The breath-stopping stupidity of that remark needs no comment. I wondered earlier if we get the finals we deserve. Now, I have no doubt that Friedel gets the referees that he deserves.
So on to the benighted shootout, and Seattle finally got its MLS Cup win -- without having registered a single shot on goal in 120 minutes of play.
Of course Seattle worked hard for the win. But Toronto worked hard too, and they did get off some shots -- all of which Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei dealt with.
When the winning team’s goalkeeper is made the game’s MVP, you can be pretty sure there’s something Alice-in-Wonderlandish about the game. Exactly that -- a game played in Arctic weather, refereed with almost slapdash laxity, then decided by the cheap vaudeville turn known as the shootout.
Seattle finally winning its first MLS Cup win, yes, that does create a warm feeling -- though I would have felt happier to see Sigi Schmid being a part of it. Did Seattle deserve its win? Frankly, no. Winning in a shootout when you’ve failed to get off even one shot on goal? Whatever, on this night Seattle took the plaudits and Toronto, no doubt feeling hard done by, will have to wait.
P.S. One more thing. Why does MLS imagine it’s such a great idea to present the trophy to the club owners? That wonderful climactic moment, the raising of the trophy ... that’s a players’ moment. It must be the captain, surrounded by his team, who receives the trophy and hoists it. The coach should be there too (though, where was Brian Schmetzer on Saturday night?). But it is anti-climactic, crassly corporational, and frankly just plain wrong to give the owners pride of place.
Does anyone else do this? Not that I know of. I mean, who should have received the World Cup in Rio two years ago? Angela Merkel, maybe, on behalf of the German team?
Let the owners be up there, with the team, if they want to be. Let them be introduced ... but that presentation moment belongs to the players.