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Everything you need to know about Sounders’ quest for the CCL finals

Sounders hold a 3-1 lead over NYCFC heading into Leg 2.

New York City FC v Seattle Sounders FC - CONCACAF Champions League - Leg 1 Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

One of the Seattle Sounders and New York City will become just the fifth MLS team to play in the Concacaf Champions League final. They’ll face off against the winner of the Pumas UNAM-Cruz Azul semifinal.

With the first legs now in the books, we have a somewhat clearer picture of how things look. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the second leg:

What happened in Leg 1?

The Sounders beat NYCFC 3-1 at Lumen Field behind goals from Albert Rusnák, Jordan Morris and Nicolás Lodeiro. The Sounders dictated play and generally created the better chances. On the whole, probably a fair scoreline. But that away goal for the Pigeons could be huge.

Did you have a favorite part?

There were several, but hard to beat the buildup to the first goal. There were 13 connected passes with 10 players touching the ball. The final bit was exceptional, with Kelyn Rowe hitting a perfect switch, Alex Roldan tapping it back to his brother, Cristian two-touching it to Jordan Morris, who then sets up Albert Rusnák for a one-time finish. You won’t see many prettier team goals anywhere in the world.

Tell me more about this “away goal”...

Up until the CCL finals, away-goals are the first-tiebreaker. If NYCFC were to win 2-0, for instance, the aggregate score would be tied 3-3 but they’d advance due to away-goals. If the game finished 3-1 for NYCFC, the game would go straight to a penalty shootout. There is no overtime at this point in the tournament. If the Sounders were to lose 4-2, however, they’d advance on away-goals.

More simply, the Sounders can advance by winning, tying or losing by just one goal.

Have one of those fancy graphics that explains it?

I do!

Fan10713

All that matters is that they advance, right?

In a sense, yes. But there is some benefit to advancing with a win as that would guarantee that the Sounders host the second leg of the finals. Unlike the previous rounds, there are no away-goals tiebreakers. There’s also the possibility of overtime, so there’s that relatively small advantage. The bigger benefit to hosting the second leg at home is that it opens up the possibility of the Sounders getting to celebrate a championship in front of their home fans. Hard to beat that.

How is that determined?

Like it was in the semifinals, the order of the games was based on points accumulated in previous CCL rounds. Heading into the final leg of the semifinals, the Sounders lead that race.

CCL points standings

Team Points Goal-difference Games remaining
Team Points Goal-difference Games remaining
Sounders 11 10 1
Pumas 11 5 0
Cruz Azul 10 4 0
NYCFC 9 4 1

What’s going on in the other semifinal?

Pumas beat Cruz Azul 2-1 at home in the first leg. The second leg will by hosted by Cruz Azul on Tuesday. If that game ends in a tie, the Sounders will host the second leg as long as they advance. If either team advances with a win, the Sounders would also need to win order to host the second leg.

Any changes we should expect in Leg 2?

The biggest one is the return of Nouhou, who will likely slot back into left back in place of Kelyn Rowe. Nouhou missed the first leg while on yellow-card accumulation and should help bolster the defense. Otherwise, I expect the Sounders to use the same starting lineup that featured that front six we were all so excited about before the season began for the first time.

Anyone else in danger of suspension?

Yellow-card accumulation cleared after the quarterfinals but since Xavier Arreaga picked up one in the first leg, he’d be suspended for the first leg of the finals if he picked one up in Leg 2.

Any updates on Yeimar Gomez Andrade?

Yeimar is likely still out with a high-ankle sprain. Although he’s starting doing some jogging, it looks like it’s still too early for the centerback to get back onto the field. There’s potentially a chance he could be available off the bench for one leg of the final, but that might even be stretching hope.

How has the defense looked without him?

Surprisingly pretty good. The Sounders have now played four games — three on the road — without Yeimar and have given up exactly one goal in each of them. They had given up four in the six games he started. Jackson Ragen, a first-year MLS player, has filled in admirably and has looked good enough that he might even have an argument to be a regular starter.

Is NYCFC getting anyone back?

Their biggest absence was Maxi Moralez, who suffered some sort of rib injury before the first leg. There’s nothing official, but it does not sound like they’re expecting him back for the second leg. Moralez had been off to a bit of a slow start this year, but he’s still a huge part of their possession game and NYCFC struggled with the Sounders press in Leg 1.

What other changes might they make?

Centerback Maxime Chanot has missed the last two games with an “upper body” injury. It’s not entirely clear how serious that is, but if he can get fit he’d probably be an upgrade over Thiago Martins, who was at least partially at fault on all three Sounders goals and was eventually pulled in the 77th minute.

Playing at Yankee Stadium is a big advantage, too, right?

Actually, the game isn’t being played there since Concacaf didn’t approve the facility. Instead, the game is being played at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. It’s not exactly a neutral facility, but they’ve played there enough over the past two seasons to suggest their home-field advantage is diminished when they play there. In 2021, for instance, NYCFC went 7-1-2 at Yankee Stadium, but were 4-3-3 at Red Bull Arena (which included two road games against the Red Bulls). In 2020, they were 3-0-1 at Yankee Stadium but just 4-3-0 at Red Bull Arena (including a road game against the Red Bulls and a CCL game against Tigres). It gets even worse if you include the other seven games (1-5-1) they’ve played at Red Bull Arena as traditional visitors. But even just looking at the last two years, NYCFC average 2.36 points per game at Yankee Stadium and just 1.59 points per game at Red Bull Arena over the last two years.

How do I watch the game?

Kickoff is at 9 PM local time — yes, you read that right — which is 6 PM Pacific. The game is being broadcast on FS1 (English) and TUDN (Spanish), so plan accordingly.

Do you have some tactical suggestions? You know, in the name of being a good sport...

I suspect Ronny Deila isn’t looking to me for advice, but my biggest suggestion would be figuring out how to get Taty Castellanos more involved. The reigning MLS Golden Boot winner had just 36 touches and was limited to just a single shot — a free kick from about 40 yards out near the end of the game. Castellanos did have the assist on NYCFC’s goal, but was otherwise kept pretty much in check.

Any advice for the Sounders?

I don’t think I’m telling Brian Schmetzer anything he doesn’t know, but they can’t go into Red Bull Arena thinking they can just defend for 90 minutes. NYCFC won eight games last year by a margin big enough to overturn this deficit, so they’re clearly capable of pulling this off. The best thing the Sounders can do is to get the first goal and then manage the game from there.

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