Toronto 0 Seattle 0 -- Another Forgettable Final

By Paul Gardner

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.

40 comments about "Toronto 0 Seattle 0 -- Another Forgettable Final ".
  1. Joe Linzner, December 11, 2016 at 2:47 p.m.

    I agree, a forgettable game, hacking, holzhacker game without flow, rhythm. Running, around, kicking without purpose terrible use of space and people wonder why mls is considered a retirement league. A truly over-hyped spectacle! Then giving the MVP to a lead-footed, recalcitrant do nothing who scores golden platter served goals and rarely finishes a pass and whose ridiculous side flip balls never hit the mark. The entire league is unquestionably an exercise in crass commercialism without any thought at all into playing creative and flowing soccer. Oh and yes Arena ball will somehow save the USMNT, Ya sure papoogenie....

  2. Ric Fonseca, December 11, 2016 at 3:06 p.m.

    Well I'll be darned! Yest another PG article I enjoyed reading and agree with! Gracias mi gran amigo Don Pablo Jardinero!!! One comment I must make here re the "color commentators", actually a question: Memory serves well, Brad Friedel went to UCLA, correct, played for Sigi, then was lucky to continue his career as a goalkeeper for some time in the UK, right? As aGK, I am sure he also can play pretty well on the field, but not as good as some of the guys last night, so for him to, IMHO, derided the players that were fouled and those that fouled, is pretty crass. And the game official? Good golly Miss Molly, I've seen better called games in high school and even college, as well as on a Sunday league, and it interesting that the game gurus even mentioned that throughout the MLS season he - Kelly - issued "only five" red cards? Just sayin'!

  3. :: SilverRey :: replied, December 12, 2016 at 12:34 p.m.

    Regardless of who would have been the center ref, they are so afraid of having to pull out a red in the final and 'determining the game' that any ref was never going to throw out cards in the first half. Welcome to modern soccer.

    This trickles down to the point where Alonso was just a human bowling ball out there. 6 fouls? try 60.

  4. j bapper, December 11, 2016 at 3:40 p.m.

    A combination of a horrible pitch, freezing weather, abysmal refereeing leads to an unwatchable game. There should have been over a dozen yellow cards in this game and probably 3-4 reds.

  5. R2 Dad replied, December 12, 2016 at 9:54 p.m.

    There were 1/2 dozen fouls in the first few minutes that weren't called, and that set the tone. Garber will be thrilled with the spectacle, ratings, & finances. The MLS fans will pooh-pooh league critics as purists/eurosnobs/elitists. Most people here will tune out next year (if they haven't already). This is a carbon copy of the last few years. The people left watching will be happy paying customers. This is the essence of Garber Ball.

  6. David Hardt, December 11, 2016 at 4:04 p.m.

    Ref swallowed his whistle WHY it is still futball game so what if it was a final. If there are fouls call them!! It was ridiculous unwatchable

  7. Daniel Clifton, December 11, 2016 at 5:27 p.m.

    The lack of cards being shown was really difficult to understand. Who chose this particular referee to call the MLS Cup. The fouling of Giovinco really took him out of the game. Alonso should not have been on the pitch at the end of the game. He should have been long gone. Persistent fouling calls for yellow cards. That's the way I remember it when I was a referee.

  8. beautiful game, December 11, 2016 at 6:15 p.m.

    PG is on the money. Friedel has no business doing soccer commentary. Fouls are something he was never used to as a keeper; and his perception of hard play versus mugging demonstrates his dull soccer intellect.

  9. Walt Pericciuoli, December 11, 2016 at 6:20 p.m.

    Agree 100%. There seems to be better, and more strict refereeing happening in Sunday morning in the park leagues.
    Until the MLS decides to protect the players, it will remain a hack game and hack league. Without skillful creative play will be snuffed out and we the fans suffer.

  10. Kent James, December 11, 2016 at 7:48 p.m.

    I generally agree with PG's assessment; if the ref had given some cards early, we would have undoubtedly had a final with better soccer. In defense of the final, you can have 0-0 games where nothing happens (especially in finals) because players are afraid to make mistakes, and this was certainly not the case here. Both teams went after the game (sometimes a little too hard), but that's what the refs are for.

  11. aka Football, December 11, 2016 at 9:37 p.m.

    “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.” Stupid is right. As I said in a comment on a different article, "allowing play to carry on" actually means, "allowing players to foul." Which, of course, prevents actual soccer from happening. MLS needs to decide what kind of league they want. If I want to watch this kind of physical roughhousing, I'll watch the league where they put on pads and helmets and get to throw and carry the ball. Congrats to Seattle, but seriously, that was sheer ugliness. Oh, and the playoffs are too long, and they should go back to playing the Cup in November.

  12. Frank Cardone, December 11, 2016 at 9:42 p.m.

    My thanks to Paul Gardner for again telling it like it is. I have seen all 20 previous MLS finals and this was the worst, primarily due to Kelly's horrible officiating. The foul on Roldan was probably the best (or should I say worst) example and Friedel's comment was almost childish. BTW - I believe that Commissioner Garber and the four commentators may have been the only people at the game who were not wearing hats. Reminded me of baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn at Yankee stadium years ago for a World
    Series game. He refused to dress in heavy gear despite the very cold weather (after all, we can't admit publicly that the expanded playoff format could possibly result in a WS game played in adverse conditions).

  13. Ginger Peeler, December 11, 2016 at 10:59 p.m.

    When Kelly was announced as the center ref, I believe it was R2 Dad and several others who predicted how Kelly would call the game. To my horror, they were exactly right! I sincerely believe that Mr Kelly's talents would be much easier better suited for a Rugby or American football field. When my daughter was taking the FIFA referee class, twenty-some years ago, I sat in on a couple of the classes. At one point, the teacher pointed out that one of the main functions of a referee is to protect the players...that the better players will stand out and they will, as a result, draw more fouls. They must be allowed to play without fear of reckless and deliberate fouls. Obviously, Mr Kelly does not subscribe to that mindset. If I had my way, given his reputation and watching him fail to control the players of the 2016 MLS final, Mr Kelly would never set foot on a soccer field again. I'd also require Mr Friedel to take a test on TROTG...he still talks about "intent" in relation to fouls. He doesn't seem to realize that a foul is a foul, whether deliberate or unintentional. Why he has been allowed to be an announcer for ANY MLS game is beyond me. Just listen to his comments and you know he doesn't even understand TLOTG. It boggles the mind that someone is actually PAYING him to spread misinformation whenever he calls a game! The game would have been so much better (to listen to) with just the play by play guy and (to watch) with a different center referee who felt the job entailed more than just directing traffic. Who do we have to talk to or petition to get these issues corrected?

  14. humble 1 replied, December 12, 2016 at 2:36 p.m.

    The references to Rugby, all due respect must be out of ignorance. Most professional Rugby use replay, and refs are mic'd. There is 100% transparency. Rules enforcement corresponds highly with with written rules, unlike MLS soccer. The better analogy of MLS officiating is going in the direction of NBA, NFL and MLB where rule enforcement is not transparent and enforced by a commissioner who holds office for decades and acts on behalf of owners.

  15. John Stark, December 12, 2016 at 1:03 a.m.

    The only reason I continued to watch this game after the first 30 minutes is my dislike for Seattle. Alonso should have
    been red carded in this game and at least one other playoff game.

    PKs are a poor way to decide games!!

  16. Scott Johnson, December 12, 2016 at 1:29 a.m.

    Presenting championship trophies to team ownership or management is, alas, a longstanding tradition in pro sports in North America. The Vince Lombardi trophy, MLB Commissioner's Trophy, and Larry O'Brien trophy are all given to the team's principal owner or executive (though the players and coaches do take part in the ceremony). The exception to this trend is the Stanley Cup, which is presented to the winning team's captain.

  17. John Mcdermott, December 12, 2016 at 8:40 a.m.

    A poor game for sure. But MLS has no monopoly on bad Finals, as Paul points out. Perhaps this one was more disappointing because of high expectations due to the presence of some of the league's most creative and exciting players. In then end a goalkeeper was the star, and that's rarely a good thing.

    As for the trophy presentation, it is something that drives me crazy. Why does MLS present the trophy to the owner and not the team captain? Because that's what the NFL does, would be my guess. It's lame. It's crass. It's disrespectful to the players and, I would say, even to the fans. But it's very American. Nobody wants to see or hear the owner at that moment. I know the Commissioner feels they need to acknowledge the owners, but that's really not the time. A classy owner would simply refuse the honor in advance and insist the trophy be presented to the captain and the players first, like they do everywhere else in the world. I am hoping, but not holding my breath for such a gesture. Until then I'm afraid MLS will go on taking its cues from the NFL template.

  18. Scott Johnson replied, December 12, 2016 at 11:43 a.m.

    One other difference: In European leagues with pro/rel, the league commissioner and management are not the employees of the owners as a joint concern; the Premier League is a separate organization which numerous football clubs would love to join, but only twenty of which are allowed in. In North American sports leagues, OTOH, the league is a joint enterprise of the team owners, and the commish ultimately works for, and serves at the pleasure of, the owners (though many are powerful enough to impose their will on ownership in many cases). The NHL is that way as well, but the league doesn't own the Stanley Cup (note there are only three of those; they don't make a new trophy every year), so different traditions have arisen concerning hockey's greatest prize.

  19. Quarterback TD, December 12, 2016 at 8:51 a.m.

    The worse team won but that fine its part of the game.. if you stayed home and watch this game most likely you wasted your time.. I was going to pass on this game until some friends went to the bar to watch and I must say it was like getting out to party after the end of Basic Training in Ft Benning.

  20. John Mcdermott, December 12, 2016 at 9:08 a.m.

    Think about this for a moment: let's imagine that Manchester United win the FA Cup, scoring a dramatic goal in the final minute of play. At which point the Glazer brothers walk up the steps of Wembley Stadium and are presented the trophy and hold it up for the fans before passing it off to the team captain... Right. That's inconceivable, laughable actually. Except in MLS, where it is the protocol.

  21. Bill Wilson replied, December 12, 2016 at 10:03 a.m.

    Of all the things to complain about this final and there are many good ones above, who receives the trophy is at the bottom of the list. This is not England. One of these days we will get over these nonsensical comparisons to things like the FA Cup. For better or worse 99.99% of the U.S. has no idea who receives the trophy in England Cups and could care less. Most who do, delight in finding new reasons to run down MLS because it doesn't pass some purity test. They are also the ones who don't go to MLS stadiums. Just go away.

  22. John Mcdermott replied, December 14, 2016 at 7:20 a.m.

    Dear Bill Wilson, my reference to Manchester United was a casual choice. It could have been AC Milan or Bayern Munich or Barcelona or PSG or Boca Juniors and it would not alter in the slightest my actual point. A point which you might think trivial but which I think actually matters to players and fans. I'm not trying to run down MLS. There is much to recommend it and it continues to improve. I do think if they would put as much effort into the quality of the product, and the officiating, as they do into marketing it would be an even better league.

  23. beautiful game, December 12, 2016 at 11 a.m.

    The MLS league kahunas have been tunnel visioning for too long in what product they want on the pitch.

  24. K Michael, December 12, 2016 at 12:20 p.m.

    Great article, spot on!!! Don Garber, you sir have a serious problem: officiating, the bane of youth development in our country, just made YOUR primetime Final, a giant hunk of excrement. An absolute disgrace. Here is your anecdotal evidence: my 12-year old soccer fan son, by halftime, said he was tired, thought the game was boring, lamented that Ladeiro and Giovinco, were being mugged and couldn't get going, and went to bed! Newsflash, Don, the kids tune in to see Giovinco, Altidore, Ladeiro, Morris, not the WWE on ice! Please, get the officiating right! For shame.

  25. humble 1, December 12, 2016 at 2:52 p.m.

    Agree with this article, like most others commentators. I talked a couple of non-MLS soccer fans into watching it with me along with their boys, who were playing in a tournament together. We lost the boys after less than 15 minutes. The three of us lost interest in the game after 15m. For me, the main problem with these finals is that there is one game, so the visitor is inclined to do just what Seattle did. Imagine if they had played another game in Seattle, first. The officiating was du jour in MLS, just what you expect; refs waving off in-your-face take downs. Very little guile or technique used to foul players that can entertain, like Giovinco. 25 degrees F is not optimal but playable, the pitch looked pretty good considering. Hat's off to the grounds folks and the Toronto fan's that braved the cold!

  26. Andrea Hana replied, December 13, 2016 at 12:28 a.m.

    " do just what Seattle did." Seattle weren't the only one's fouling. Toronto was taking out Seattle's player multiple times and the ref just let it ride. Poor officiating. I'm disappointed that Seattle took the strategy to just 0-out in OT and go for the penalties, but... it worked for them.

  27. beautiful game, December 12, 2016 at 4:35 p.m.

    The ref killed the game from the start. The first aerial assault came unpunished in the first 5 minutes of the game. It was blatant with intent to deliver a message that thuggery will be permissible.

  28. Margaret Manning, December 12, 2016 at 10:26 p.m.

    "Did Seattle deserve its win? Frankly, no."

    That's rich. Talk to Garber about scheduling a final in 10 degree weather. We stood there in it for four hours. I cannot imagine trying to play beautiful soccer in it. And NOW we're going to talk about refereeing? Really? And NOW we're going to whine about everything else? Really?

    Sorry, but under the rules of the game under the conditions of the game Seattle played the game and won the Cup. "Deserve"? Have you ever said that another team hasn't "deserved" the Cup? Just wondering.

  29. Margaret Manning, December 12, 2016 at 10:35 p.m.

    Oh, wait, I forgot two more "reasons" Seattle "didn't deserve" to win the Cup. The COMMENTATORS were displeasing to you and the LEAGUE presents its Cup to OWNERS.

    Sure, pick NOW to raise everything you don't like about MLS Soccer. The rest of the year, you're too busy. But now's a good time to crap all over Seattle and its fans.

  30. R2 Dad replied, December 13, 2016 at 12:32 a.m.

    No, we are equal-opportunity crappers. Toronto would have gotten it just the same.

  31. Scott Johnson replied, December 13, 2016 at 4 p.m.

    Just remember--the Timbers won it first. :) :) :)

  32. Robert Smith, December 12, 2016 at 11:32 p.m.

    Time to enlarge the goals and modify the offsides rule. It is too difficult to score. 0-0 draws are becoming the norm. The fans want to see the beautiful game. Most people want to be entertained by star players creating goals.

  33. Margaret Manning replied, December 13, 2016 at 12:31 a.m.

    Or play in temps above 40 degrees?

  34. Scott Johnson replied, December 13, 2016 at 3:58 p.m.

    Switching to the international calendar--so the championship isn't being played in the winter--might help. That said, I despise the NFL's practice of keeping cold-weather cities from hosting the Super Bowl. Much of North America has harsh winters; that's something that sports here--particularly outdoor sports--have to deal with.

  35. R2 Dad, December 13, 2016 at 12:33 a.m.

    Wouldn't take much to have a host for the match, like the Superbowl, in a hospitable location.

  36. Andrea Hana, December 13, 2016 at 12:34 a.m.

    "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." I agree with this. They handed the Western Division Cup to Alonso, as it should have been. The MLS Cup is a unique tournament. In the rest of soccer world, there is the League Championship (what we here in the U.S. have diminished to the "Supporter's Shield"). So, the owners walk away with their little NFL wanna-be trophy for their version of the Superbowl. I am glad, though, that, with so much emphasis put upon this tournament, playoff, that the Sounders finally will wear that star on their jersey's. They do deserve that.

  37. Ben Lukas, December 13, 2016 at 10:14 a.m.

    I groaned when I saw Alan Kelly as the center ref. And my worst fears were realized; he did not use his cards to control the brutality and persistence of the fouls. Nor did he call fouls that I would have called. (I am a USSA certified ref.) So persistently fouling to stop attacks became the norm, both ways but more so by Seattle. How many fouls did O Alonzo commit that were called, and the equal many not called, and never a yellow for persistent infringement? (He is not the only such party, on either team, IMHO.)

    So we get a game where skilled is devalued and brutality is rewarded, and a lottery pick shootout. And my wife suffers so when I yell at the TV about such games because the referees won't enforce the rules.

    Perhaps the MLS leadership might realize that enforcing the laws might make a better final (something closer to the Toronto/Montreal series) and improve ratings and draw fans? Please get Alan Kelly off the field, and out of referee leadership!

    (I also watched the College Cup final on Sunday, and felt the same way about the officiating. And so another scoreless game and shootout. Even Kate Margraff was complaining about it.)

  38. Ben Myers, December 13, 2016 at 1:27 p.m.

    Gulati and Garber should be ashamed at this pathetic "spectacle"! I watched the first half, then went off and did something more useful. No cohesion to the play. Spacing was awful. Rampant thuggery. Is this supposed to be the best professional soccer that the US has to offer? Gee, tune in to any random EPL, Bundesliga or Champions League match any week and you'll see much better soccer.

    The bottom line here is that the US does a poor job of developing elite world-class players and MLS simply showcases it. Why on earth doesn't Gulati use his bully pulpit to push for some real changes, rather than the 7v7 U10 and 9v9 U12 initiatives pushed by US Youth Soccer?

    The US does a terrible job of selecting players to play at the elite level, and an even worse job of training and preparing them. In the meantime, parents spend tens of thousands on club soccer for their little Messi wannabes, and the soccer clubs say thank you very much. I could write a book... Ben Myers

  39. Scott Johnson replied, December 13, 2016 at 3:56 p.m.

    Small-sided games in the youth levels--a rather recent initiative--have nothing to do with the current state of the professional game. Indeed--most if not all the US-raised pros probably spent their elementary-school years playing 11v11, a game that for many reasons, is not ideal for young children.

  40. Scot Sutherland, December 30, 2016 at 12:45 p.m.

    Having riffed for a few years at the college level. I found that calling fouls consistently by the book generally settled the game down and led to less problems later in the game. Letting things go led to a rougher game and more contentious behavior. There were games when the players weren't getting the message. They became choppy and full of set pieces. I also found that players were much more careful in the penalty box if the game was being called tightly in the field of play. Diving is a hard one. I gave a few yellow cards for simulation, but players can become very good at making a dive look legitimate. I tried to get as close as possible and see as well as I could. I tried to use my linesmen for help, but always the hardest part for me.

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