‘Culture’, ‘ethos’ lead Seattle Sounders to CCL final and gates of history
By Charles Bohm – WASHINGTON, DC (April 14, 2022) American Football Players – In the end, Seattle’s margin of victory was secure, 4-2 overall. Nevertheless, New York City FC won them every inch of their place in the Concacaf Champions League final.
Wednesday’s second leg at Red Bull Arena was seconds away when the first scrum broke out. A deadly late aerial challenge from NYCFC’s Taty Castellanos sent Xavier Arreaga sprawling on the grass almost immediately after the opening kickoff. Players from both sides clashed angrily. It set the tone for possibly one of the most intense games between MLS teams outside of the league playoffs.
NYCFC needed to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the first leg. As Seattle’s Raul Ruidiaz’s clinical finish in the first half finally pushed that dream out of reach, the whole game crackled with life. We’ve watched the current MLS Cup champions put the closest MLS to a modern dynasty to the test. While the City Football Group’s American outpost could one day become something on this scale, the Sounders have a significant head start. Now, only UNAM Pumas prevent them from officially confirming it with their league’s first-ever CCL trophy capture.
“We were talking about showing the intensity and the energy that we know this team can do, and today they were on fire. They were all over Seattle, which is a very, very good football team,” NYCFC coach Ronny Deila said afterwards. “It was a difficult game. But in the end, we weren’t good enough in both (penalty) boxes compared to them, and that’s why they are in the final and not us.
Seattle is the fifth MLS franchise to reach the final in the modern version of North America’s top club competition. They joined Real Salt Lake in 2011, Montreal Impact in 2015, Toronto FC in 2018 and LAFC two years ago. Suffering from an impressive range of heartaches, none of them completed the mission of winning the Champions League. Liga MX’s dominance dates back to 2008, the start of the current era.
Then again, none of them impressed quite the way the Sounders did this spring, either. The Rave Green weathered a long trip to Honduras and sent Motagua into a round of 16 streak that kicked off more than a week before MLS opening day. In the next round, they completely defeated quality Liga MX opposition Club Leon. And now they’ve managed their league’s defending champions, while weathering a string of injuries to key starters and adapting their tactics as needed.
“We had to bring a lot of players from this team forward in critical moments, starting with Honduras, starting with Motagua. Then you have to play against Leon, who are a very good team. And now we had to play the best team in MLS last year, the champions, the MLS Cup winners, so we had a tough road,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said on Wednesday night. “So yeah, we needed everyone, everyone on the roster, even the young kids, to make sure the level of training is high. So I commend this group for doing a lot, a lot good things. And our preparation will revolve around the same things, that if they stay together, if they continue the process and how they do things, it’s a very tight group. It’s a very good group. We so let’s see what we can do in the final.
The Pumas are another very difficult mission for Seattle, even though they are not part of the current Liga MX elite. Coach Andres Lillini has built a fiery, attacking collective on a limited budget. With no wins on the road in this year’s CCL, they made full use of home advantage, overtaking Saprissa, New England Revolution and Cruz Azul with home wins. Mexico City’s high altitude will test the Sounders’ physical condition and concentration, just like other American and Canadian teams for decades.
“I think the only thing we know is that we can’t play a second half that we played today, in Mexico. We’re going to run out of juice very quickly,” the goalkeeper said. Seattle goal Stefan Frei after his man of the match display on Wednesday “We put in a lot of effort, but if we have to put that much pressure on ourselves in Mexico City, it’s going to be very, very difficult. So they have a good side and we will look at what motivates them, and maybe also what we can exploit or what we want to target. But it will be a good final.
MLS Cup winners in 2016 and 2019, the Sounders have now reached a final in six of Schmetzer’s seven seasons. The club has never failed to make the MLS playoffs since its expansion debut in 2009. Unlike several other 2022 CCL entrants, Seattle has generally remained competitive in league play even when calling upon young players because he competes on two fronts.
With their go-to visit to the Pumas’ Estadio Olímpico Universitario scheduled for April 27, Schmetzer has effectively confirmed that he will face his kids against Inter Miami at Lumen Field this weekend.
“The constant theme throughout this club, the culture of the club, is to win every game, every trophy, every competition. We take all games seriously, we don’t buy the excuse that if you engage in a tournament, you can’t continue or succeed in the next one. We don’t buy that,” he said. “That’s the philosophy we try to impose on our young players. having to bring in a group of young players and play against Miami, but we always expect to win.
Just about every MLS player who reached a CCL final said they recognized and embraced the gravity of the moment, only to be outdone by superior talent in the clutch moments. Now the Sounders will gain momentum.
“There are very few opportunities to make history, okay?” notes Frei. “There is still an elusive one for MLS. If you can be the one, it’s going to be huge for your career, for the franchise, for everyone involved. And what a huge opportunity.
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