Earthquakes

Seattle wins MLS Cup, beating Toronto on penalty kicks

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USATSI

Seattle wins MLS Cup, beating Toronto on penalty kicks

TORONTO -- As homecomings go, the MLS Cup final is going to be hard to beat for Seattle's Stefan Frei.

Frei made critical saves in regulation and then again in the penalty-kick shootout to help the Sounders win their first championship with a 5-4 victory in the tiebreaker against Toronto FC on Saturday night.

The Swiss goalkeeper, who was drafted by Toronto in 2009 and spent five seasons with the club until he was traded in 2013, earned the game's MVP honors.

"This is what you want to be a part of," he said. "We've made Sounders history and for me it could have happened anywhere, I don't care as long as I'm with my team and my teammates."

Roman Torres scored in the sixth round of penalty kicks to clinch the trophy after 120 scoreless minutes. It was the first MLS Cup final to fail to produce a goal in regulation, setting the stage for a dramatic tiebreaker.

While Toronto's Michael Bradley and Alvaro Fernandez for Seattle had both seen their shots saved, the game went to sudden-death spot kicks. Toronto's Justin Morrow could only clatter his shot off the crossbar, setting the stage for Torres to win it with a high shot down the middle of the goal.

"You need a little bit of luck," Frei said. "Let's face it, PKs are not the prettiest thing to decide a game, and actually Roman missed a penalty in training yesterday. I'm glad he missed yesterday and not today."

Seattle became the first team in MLS Cup final history to fail to produce a shot on target throughout the game. Additionally, the Sounders' three shots overall were the fewest in an MLS title game, the first to feature two expansion franchises. Toronto was the first Canadian MLS Cup finalist.

That meant little to Bradley, who was understandably dejected after seeing his team become just the second to lose at home since MLS switched from having the final at a neutral location to the home stadium of the finalist with the most regular-season points in 2012. The Portland Timbers became the first when they won the championship in Columbus against the Crew last year.

"Every guy gave everything they had, every guy walked off the field having pored their hearts into the game and we didn't get rewarded tonight," Bradley said. "That's sports, that's life."

With the game on the line, Toronto coach Greg Vanney removed former MLS most valuable player Sebastian Giovinco in the 103rd minute in favor of Tosaint Ricketts. While Vanney said that an exhausted Giovinco "couldn't move," after the game, the gutsy call almost paid off.

Following Ricketts' cross five minutes after coming on, it looked as if Jozy Altidore was going to give Toronto the lead in the 108th minute with a looping header, but an athletic save from Frei kept it scoreless. Leaping to his left, he scooped the ball off the line with his left hand, allowing his defense to clear the ball to safety.

"Obviously Frei makes a couple big saves that keep them in it," Vanney said. "But congratulations to them."

For Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer, who took over from Sigi Schmid on July 26 with Seattle in ninth place in the Western Conference, the turnaround was complete. Posting an 8-2-4 record since then, Seattle became the first team in MLS history to make the playoffs after having 20 or fewer points through the season's first 20 matches.

"Some people say defense wins championships," he said. "You couple Roman's performance with Stefan Frei, who came up massive with that one save and then in the penalty-kick shootout made the save that he needed to make."

ONE COLD NIGHT

The temperature at kickoff was 28 degrees, making it the second-coldest MLS Cup on record. That honor goes to the 2013 edition at Sporting Park in Kansas City, where the game kicked off at 22 degrees.

ONE HOT TICKET

While the remaining tickets for Saturday's final sold out in three minutes after going on sale to the general public last Monday, there were still 90 or so tickets available on StubHub 10 minutes prior to kickoff. Prices ranged from $147 up to $2,500 for a ticket that retailed between $55 and $555 at face value.

THE POWER OF CHANGE

Schmetzer became the first coach in MLS history to take charge of a team midway through the season and lead it to a championship. Schmid (Los Angeles Galaxy) and Steve Nicol (New England Revolution) took their teams to the title match, but both came up short.

THE PRICE IS RIGHT

"I hope we get to do this every year; it's pretty fun. If we don't win the championship every year I hope everyone has to go through us to get to the championship every year and when they get here they're bloody and bruised and can barely play." — Seattle Sounders part-owner, and host of the Price is Right, Drew Carey, in the locker room after the game.

Shocker: US Men's National Team eliminated from World Cup contention

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Shocker: US Men's National Team eliminated from World Cup contention

COUVA, Trinidad — Twenty-eight years after one of the United States' most important victories came in stunning fashion at Trinidad to end a four-decade World Cup absence, the Americans' chances for the 2018 tournament in Russia ended on this island nation off the coast of Venezuela.

The U.S. was eliminated from World Cup contention Tuesday night, a shocking 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago ending a run of seven straight American appearances at soccer's showcase.

The Soca Warriors scored a pair of first-half goals, getting one off U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez, and the United States made too many other mistakes to recover. The Americans are out of the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

"We let down an entire nation today," Gonzalez said.

Shocked American players slumped on the bench, and Matt Besler sat on the field after the final whistle as Panama's game ended and then Costa Rica's. At the end, dejected U.S. players filed into their locker rooms with blank looks.

"We foolishly brought Trinidad into the game with the own goal," coach Bruce Arena said. "That was a big goal for Trinidad psychologically. That got them motivated."

The U.S. entered its final qualifier with a berth uncertain for the first time since 1989. Home losses to Mexico last November and Costa Rica left the Americans little margin for error.

The 28th-ranked Americans needed merely a tie against 99th-ranked Trinidad, which lost its sixth straight qualifier last week. But the defeat — coupled with Honduras' come-from-behind 3-2 win over Mexico and Panama's 2-1 victory over Costa Rica on Ramon Torres' 88th-minute goal — dropped the Americans from third place into fifth in the six-nation final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

Mexico and Costa Rica already had clinched berths, and Panama claimed the third and final automatic spot and will go the World Cup for the first time. Honduras will meet Australia in a two-game playoff next month for another spot at next year's 32-nation tournament.

Missing the World Cup is a devastating blow to the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has steadily built the sport in the last quarter-century with the help of sponsors and television partners. It also is a trauma for Fox, which broadcasts the next three World Cups after taking the U.S. rights from ESPN. The USSF hopes to co-host the 2026 tournament with Mexico and Canada, and Morocco is the only other bidder.

After an 0-2 start in the hexagonal last fall under Jurgen Klinsmann, the USSF replaced him last November with Arena, the American coach from 1998-2006. The team revived with home wins over Honduras and Trinidad last spring and draws at Panama and Mexico. But the 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica in New Jersey at the start of Labor Day weekend proved one hurdle too many to overcome.

The Americans fell behind in the 17th minute when Gonzalez made a casual attempt with his left foot to clear Alvin Jones' cross and sent the ball looping over the outstretched right arm of goalkeeper Tim Howard from 18 yards.

Jones doubled the lead in the 37th with a 35-yard strike, again to Howard's upper right corner, and nearly scored another in the 44th when his swerving shot bounced off Howard's chest and spilled into the penalty area.

Christian Pulisic, the Americans' 19-year-old star midfielder, scored in the 47th minute from the arc with a right-footed shot. He played a role in 12 of the 17 American goals in the hexagonal.

One minute later, Howard made a kick save on Shahdon Winchester's short-range shot, and DeAndre Yedlin blocked Levi Garcia's follow-up attempt.

The U.S. bench was tense, as Honduras scored twice early in the second half to take the lead over visiting Mexico in the 60th minute and Panama tied the score against visiting Costa Rica in the 52nd.

Clint Dempsey, who entered at the start of the second half, was denied by goalkeeper Adrian Foncette's leaping save in the 69th and hit a post from 22 yards in the 77th. Pulisic's shot in the 87th was saved by Foncette.

All American reserves were standing for much of the final minutes, and Arena had repeated exasperated looks.

"No excuses for us not getting the second goal and at least a point," Arena said. "It's a blemish for us."

Just a few hundred fans were in the stands at 10,000-capacity Ato Boldon Stadium, located 24 miles south of the capital, Port-of-Spain. Paul Caligiuri's famous goal at the National Stadium in 1989 put the U.S. in the World Cup for the first time since 1950.

Among the spectators were a few dozen American Outlaws, the U.S. supporters group.

Water that had flooded the track surrounding the field ahead of the U.S. training session Monday was gone.

USMNT back on track with 4-0 pounding of Panama

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AP

USMNT back on track with 4-0 pounding of Panama

ORLANDO, Fla. — Teenage star Christian Pulisic scored with a brilliant touch to complete a field-length attack just eight minutes in, then split the defense with a pass that set up Jozy Altidore for the first of the forward's two goals and put the United States back on track for next year's World Cup with a 4-0 rout of Panama on Friday night.

Pulisic fed Altidore for a 2-0 lead in the 19th. Altidore converted a penalty kick with a chip in the 43rd after Bobby Wood was fouled, and Wood added a goal in the 63rd.

The U.S. ended a three-match winless streak in qualifying and with 12 points and moved two points ahead of Panama into third place — the last automatic berth — in the North and Central American and Caribbean region. Honduras has nine points going into its match Saturday at Costa Rica, which is second with 15.

Goal difference means the Americans put themselves in great shape to reach an eighth straight World Cup, almost certainly with a win Tuesday at Trinidad and Tobago and likely with a draw if Honduras fails to win Saturday. The U.S. is plus-five to minus-two for Panama and minus-seven for Honduras.

The region's fourth-place team advances to a playoff next month against Australia or Syria.

"We could have finished better on the day and scored more goals," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.

Playing his first international match since he turned 19 last month, Pulisic was moved to central midfield from the flanks by coach Bruce Arena and sparked the attack from the opening whistle with pace and ball control seldom seen from Americans.

After Gabriel Gomez broke free from Omar Gonzalez and shot over the crossbar, Tim Howard's goal kick was headed forward by Bobby Wood about 10 yards past midfield.

Altidore one-timed the ball ahead to on a sprinting Pulisic, and the midfielder reached back with his left leg to flick the ball ahead. Pulisic jumped to avoid Roman Torres' challenge and used the outside of his right foot to play the ball forward. As goalkeeper Jaime Penedo came off his line, Pulisic used the outside of his right foot again to play the ball wide and jumped over Pinedo's outstretched arm. At the edge of the 6-yard box and just 2 yards from the endline, Pulisic reached with his right foot to slot the ball in, completing a 112-yard U.S. move. Pulisic tumbled over as the ball rolled in for his eighth goal in 19 international appearances, his fourth in the hex.

Pulisic created the second goal when he played the ball between his feet and faked Michael Murillo on the left flank Pulisic broke ahead and fed Altidore, who split the center backs and redirected the ball in from 5 yards for his first goal of the hexagonal. At that point, Pulisic had played a part in 11 of the Americans' 14 goals in the hex.

After Wood and Altidore failed to convert good chances, Wood drew the penalty kick when he exchanged passes with Paul Arriola along a flank, broke past Felipe Baloy, spurted diagonally into the penalty area and was pushed down by Armando Cooper. As Pinedo dived to his left, Altidore chipped the ball down the center for his 41st international game.

Hacked down several times by Panamanians, Pulisic was removed in the 57th minute and walked out to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 25,303 at Orlando City Stadium, which opened in February,

Wood added his 10th international goal off a pass from Arriola.

Panama was trying to move into position to qualify for its first World Cup. The Panamanians were 90 seconds from advancing to a playoff against New Zealand four years ago, when Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson scored late goals at Honduras, which dropped Panama behind Mexico and into fifth place.