Sounders win Champions League in Style

by Michael Martinez

They’ve done it. The Seattle Sounders have finally done what no other MLS team could in the modern iteration of this tournament. They managed hostile terrain, historic Mexican sides, the reigning MLS Cup champions, and the usual array of Concacaf-ing to become the league’s first continental champions. Time to be insufferable.

Lineups:

Seattle Sounders: 4-2-3-1

Pumas:

Match Report

Although the Sounders ultimately beat Pumas UNAM 3-0 in the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League — 5-2 on aggregate — and looked pretty comfortable doing it, the opening half provided more than enough reason to worry. Seattle created chances early but lost Nouhou in the 11th minute and João Paulo in the 29th to injuries. After that, both sides pushed, but Stefan Frei stood up to the challenge at each turn to keep Pumas out.

Then in the final minute of first-half regulation time, Raúl Ruidíaz did what we all knew he would: hammered a ball in the area that beat the goalkeeper after a deflection. After that, Lumen Field exploded, and while we didn’t know it then, nothing was ever the same again.

Pumas only had one decent chance in the second half, which drew an excellent save from Frei.

The final 45 minutes were effectively all Sounders, and the payoff came in the final 10 minutes. Ruidíaz doubled his tally on an excellent team goal in the 80th minute, finishing off a sequence that included a ball from Alex Roldan that released Jordan Morris down the wing. Morris drove at the penalty area before playing a drop pass to the top of the box for Nico Lodeiro, who found Ruidíaz running into the box.

Minutes later, Lodeiro hammered the ball home, finishing the rebound following a great play by Morris to create space and get a shot off from the right side. 

That settled any questions about a possible Pumas comeback as the Sounders took their final steps into glory. The Seattle Sounders, Concacaf Champions. History has been made.

Post Match Thoughts

Sounders Striker, Ruidiaz, scores in the final

Image via Steph Chambers/Getty Images

I have never heard Lumen Field this loud. Seattle came out to party and the stadium was BOOMIN. You could even feel the noise and vibrations in the press box! The atmosphere was euphoric, to say the least. I would even compare it to some of the biggest games in Europe. Who would have thought we’d be saying that 10 years ago?

The Sounders deserved to win.

One of the talking points coming into this match was how the Sounders would deal with the pressure of a championship match at home, with the expectations of seemingly the entire league on their shoulders. The last time the Sounders hosted a final was the 2019 MLS Cup, where they started slowly before finishing strong. Unfortunately for Pumas, that wasn’t the case here, as the Sounders dominated for the overwhelming majority of play. That isn’t to say Pumas didn’t have their opportunities, but thanks to another stellar performance from Stefan Frei, they couldn’t breach the Sounders’ net, and the Sounders defense kept Pumas mostly at bay.

A title run for the ages

While the Sounders didn’t face off against Tigres or Club America, they ran through serious competition for the title. The Sounders went undefeated during the run, including twice in Mexico and on the road in New York. Tossing in their opening series against Motagua, they had a dominant run. Four road draws with four dominating wins at home sealed the deal.

Ruidiaz shows up when we need him.

One of the nerviest situations for a soccer team — aside from hosting the Biggest Match in Team History — is when you’re dominating play and don’t have anything to show for it. One misplay or bad bounce could mean heartbreak. But when the tension is at its highest, teams need their stars to shine. Enter Raul Ruidiaz, who always seems to show up when, and where the Sounders need him most. While his first tally won’t win any Goal of the Year nominations, it did give the Sounders the advantage, significant in Concacaf matches, where deficits mean time-wasting and cynicism.

Sounders’ midfield maestros

Much of the credit for the Sounders’ dominant display has to go to the midfield. In particular, Nicolas Lodeiro and Albert Rusnak gave Pumas fits with their dribbling ability and close control, helping the Sounders keep the ball when they needed to or spring attacks when the opportunities presented themselves. Rusnak was instrumental in the opening goal, dribbling several defenders and centering the ball to Arreaga, who laid it off for Ruidiaz’s deflected finish. And what is there to say about Nicolas Lodeiro, who capped off a fantastic game with the third goal of the match late in the game. And the celebration at Lumen was well and truly on.

MOTM

While the official Man of The Match went to Raul Ruidiaz for his brace to lead the Sounders to a historic victory, I feel that Rusnak should have deserved it. The newest DP signing struggled a tad bit in his first few games as a Sounder, but his form leading up to the final has been superb. His form continued into the final as he was KEY in every aspect of the midfield. The game went through him at every opportunity and his work rate was insane. Every player did their part today, but Rusnak was on another level.

 

The Sounders will get a crack at Liverpool, Real Madrid, or Palmeiras in the FIFA Club World Cup in the nearish future. First, however, they’ll look to recover from a slow MLS start to keep their playoff streak alive. Unfortunately, they may have to accomplish a feat without the services of João Paulo. He received his champions medal on crutches after leaving the match with a season-ending ACL injury midway in the first half.

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