MLS

Sounders Becomes First MLS Team to Win CONCACAF Champions League

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It took Major League Soccer clubs 14 years to finally break through on the continental stage.

On May 3, the long wait finally came to an end in the Pacific Northwest, as Seattle Sounders FC delivered the championship that association football fans had dreamed of, but didn’t think was possible, winning the CONCACAF Champions League on aggregate after the two-leg final.

Road to the Second Leg of CONCACAF Champions League Final for Seattle Sounders FC

On April 26, the two-leg CONCACAF Champions League Final began when Seattle Sounders FC traveled to Mexico City to play Liga MX side Club Universidad Nacional, also known as Pumas.

After trailing 2-0 for much of the match that evening, the Sounders stormed back in the second half.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – APRIL 27: Nicolas Lodeiro of Seattle Sounders celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal during the final first leg match between Pumas UNAM and Seattle Sounders as part of the Concacaf Champions League 2022 at Olimpico Universitario Stadium on April 27, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images)

In the 77th minute of the game, midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro notched a penalty kick to cut the Pumas’ lead to 2-1, followed up by his second penalty of the night nine minutes into second-half stoppage time, to make the aggregate score 2-2 and set up the crucial second leg at Lumen Field with everything to play for.

“Now it goes back to 90 minutes to decide the winner,” said Seattle Sounders FC manager Brian Schmeltzer in his postgame media availability following that night’s draw in the first leg of the final.

“Anything can happen in CONCACAF. Anything can happen in a final.”

Under CONCACAF Champions League rules, away goals would not have been the tiebreaker for the second leg of the final, so the 2-2 draw in the first leg had the same effect as a goalless draw would have had.

Match Postponed Ahead of Seattle Sounders FC’s Shutout Win in Leg 2 of CONCACAF Champions League Final

In order to give Seattle Sounders FC enough time to focus on the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Final against Pumas on the MLS side’s home grounds, MLS postponed April 30’s Sounders FC match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC to the evening of June 14.

Making that match the second on Seattle’s schedule during the 2022 MLS season to be postponed and rescheduled due to this tournament.

Earlier this season, a Sounders match against FC Cincinnati originally slated to take place the evening of April 9 was postponed and rescheduled for the evening of Sept. 27, in the aftermath of Seattle Sounders FC advancing to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal.

Sounders Grab 1-0 Lead Ahead of Halftime in Leg Two of CONCACAF Champions League Final

With a week off thanks to the postponed match in league play, Sounders FC welcomed the largest single-match crowd ever to witness a CONCACAF Champions League match, as 68,741 supporters showed up and played the role of the 12th man in Seattle, guiding the squad to a 3-0 shutout victory in leg two (5-2 on aggregate) to clinch the first MLS title in the competition.

Leg two of the final began scoreless, but right before first-half stoppage time was announced by the fourth official, midfielder Albert Rusnak connected with defender Xavier Arreaga on a pass, with Arreaga then completing a pass to forward Raul Rudiaz, who put the ball in the net to give the Sounders the lead on aggregate for keeps.

1-0 on the evening and 3-2 in the overall scoreline as the teams headed to the changing room.

Seattle Sounders FC Tested, but Put Final Away with Two Goals in Second Half of Leg Two

After halftime, Seattle held serve for much of the second 45 minutes, but not without a scare from Pumas.

Who very nearly scored a goal to equalize the match on the night and the CONCACAF Champions League Final on aggregate, with goalkeeper Stefan Frei making the most important save for Seattle this season to keep the shutout in leg two alive.

With 10 minutes remaining before second-half stoppage time, Lodeiro completed another pass to Rudiaz, who sent the ball home with a right-footed shot to give Seattle a 2-0 lead on the night and himself a brace for leg two of the CONCACAF Champions League Final.

Seattle Sounders forward Raul Ruidiaz celebrates his second goal in the CONCACAF Champions League final match between Seattle Sounders and Pumas UNAM at Lumen Field in Seattle, Washington on May 4, 2022. – The Seattle Sounders defeated Mexico’s Pumas UNAM 5-2 on aggregate to win the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday, ending Major League Soccer’s 23-year wait to lift the top club tournament for teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Two goals from Peruvian international Raul Ruidiaz and a late strike from Uruguayan veteran Nicolas Lodeiro sealed a deserved 3-0 second leg victory in front of a tournament record crowd of 68,741 at Seattle’s Lumen Field. Last week’s first leg had ended in a 2-2 draw in Mexico City. (Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP) (Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)

In the 88th minute of the match, after a shot on goal by Sounders winger/forward Jordan Morris was saved, Lodeiro grabbed the second chance and put the ball in the net for the aggregate hat trick in this cup tie to close the scoring in the CONCACAF Champions League Final and give Seattle Sounders FC one of the most historic wins for any MLS club across all competitions.

Seattle Sounders FC Become First MLS Side to Clinch Berth in FIFA Club World Cup

The 5-2 aggregate victory for Seattle Sounders FC in the CONCACAF Champions League Final these past two weeks was historic, not only for the team but for Major League Soccer as a whole.

With the win in the final, Seattle now becomes the first team in MLS ever to clinch a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup.

Unlike the FIFA World Cup, held every four years, the Club World Cup is an annual competition to determine which team qualifying from continental tournaments is the best in the world.

A few months ago, the 2022 FIFA Club World Cup was held in Qatar, won by Premier League side Chelsea FC.

Seattle Sounders FC Poised to Become Top Side After CONCACAF Champions League Triumph?

While the Sounders won’t know their initial opponents in the FIFA Club World Cup for some time, Seattle general manager Garth Lagerwey took the immediate aftermath of his club winning the CONCACAF Champions League Final to relish the chance to play a world-class side.

“We’re going to play against Real Madrid or Liverpool in a real game for a trophy,” Lagerwey began. “I feel like a little kid. This is the stuff you dream of.”

Lagerwey also believes that Seattle Sounders FC’s big win in the final will help his team on a grander scale.

“I think we’re going to become a global club now,” he said. “I’ve got to think my phone starts ringing once some people see what our fanbase, our building… it’s as good of a soccer environment as anywhere in the world. It just is. This is a pretty special place.”

Final Thoughts

This victory by Seattle Sounders FC in the CONCACAF Champions League Final was a long time coming for MLS, its clubs, and its supporters all throughout North America.

Seattle showed that an MLS team can hang with a squad from another country, build a lead, and win. This was a morale-building and important moment for a league that has, far too often, been the target of derision among fans of the sport throughout the world.

MLS was once thought to have been a retirement league for players to get their last paychecks on the way out of the game, but now, with Seattle Sounders FC planting its flag at the peak of the North American football crag, and the likes of players like Lorenzo Insigne coming to the league in their prime, this MLS has now proven itself worthy and ready to do battle against football’s global gladiators.



Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images

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