Raul Ruidiaz. Jordan Morris. Nicolas Lodeiro.
Those are a few names fans might have expected to see on the scoresheet first in the Seattle’s 2019 MLS Cup final against visiting Toronto FC.
But it was a pair of unlikely players who scored Seattle’s first two goals in the second half and inked their names into Seattle Sounders history in Seattle’s 3-1 win over Toronto.
Defender Kelvin Leerdam opened the scoring in the 57th minute when his shot deflected off Toronto defender Justin Morrow and into the back of the net to put the Sounders up 1-0.
It was Leerdam’s first goal of the MLS Cup playoffs, and individually, his first MLS Cup playoff goal ever. He came into the game with five goals in the MLS regular season.
For a Sounders team that was outplayed in the first half by a Toronto team that dominated possession, Leerdam’s goal was a game-changer.
“We made some adjustments at halftime,” said Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer. “Especially after Kelvin scored that goal, we were able to figure it out.”
Schmetzer could’ve chosen to go defensive with his tactics with a 1-0 lead and try to hang on. Instead, he went on the attack, subbing on Victor Rodriguez in the 61st minute, shortly after Leerdam’s goal.
The talent has always been there with Rodriguez, but he had missed much of the season with lingering injury issues. But in the most important game of the season — and Seattle’s history as an MLS franchise — he showed up, scoring a goal in the 76th minute, taking a beauty of a flicked-on assist from Lodeiro at the edge of the box and slotting it into the right side of the net to give Seattle a 2-0 advantage.
“I’m so happy for that,” Rodriguez said. “I think I deserve that because I work a lot every single day for this moment. It was a hard season for me — especially this year, there were a lot of injuries, re-injuries. I’m always trying to work more to not have that, but that’s the life of soccer. Sometimes these things happen.”
Rogriguez’s injury difficulties relegated him to a spot on the bench during the playoffs, and in Sunday’s MLS Cup final, in which he was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. It’s a challenging situation he’s tried to make the most of.
“I think the coach has to make decisions. With my injuries in the season, maybe he thinks I’m not ready for 90 minutes. If the team is winning, it’s normal. I think I did well when I came on to the field. Always, players want to play all the minutes possible,” he said. “But with my situation, going to the bench was a little bit hard, but I’m so happy for today, for the MLS Cup and for the MVP.”
Seattle general manager Garth Lagerwey walked out of the tunnel with Rodriguez following his postgame press conference. Mostly, he felt proud of the 30-year-old Spaniard.
“Nobody worked harder than Victor,” Lagerwey said. “The guy literally played 40 percent of the minutes this year. He’s just a guy that started on every team that he’s ever been on his whole life.”
Lagerwey said that Rodriguez could either put his head down and pout or keep working to get back and make the most of his bench role in the playoffs. Clearly, he chose the latter.
“There’s literally no one I’m happier for,” Lagerwey said. “All of his work to get ready for the end of this season, and even then, he doesn’t start. He comes off the bench and is the MVP in the final, scores the winner. It’s just a testament to his character.”