The Seattle Sounders are going to the Finals! A 1-1 draw on the road against New York City FC at Red Bull Arena booked the trip after a 3-1 win at home in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League semifinal tie, giving Seattle an 4-2 aggregate victory in the series. The Sounders took the lead through yet another beautifully worked team goal that included a gorgeous diagonal ball from Jackson Ragen to Nouhou and a great cross into the box from Nouhou that Raúl Ruidíaz knocked home.
NYCFC tied the game, bringing the aggregate deficit back to two, early in the second half. Seattle had a great opportunity to close the door just a few minutes later as Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan got out on the counter, but when Roldan found Morris with a great look inside the area his shot was right at the one defender standing on the goal line.
NYCFC continued to push for more goals to get back into the series, but try as they might they simply weren’t going to beat Stefan Frei. Frei recorded 7 saves as New York racked up 25 shots, with more than a few of those stops coming in spectacular fashion. With Frei doing his best brick wall impression, and the rest of the squad doing their best to limit the danger of the shots that New York got off, Seattle held off the Pigeons for the better part of an hour and secured their place in the finals. Although there were a couple of yellows shown, the Sounders also managed to avoid being goaded into any yellows that would cause players to miss the opening leg of the finals, where they’ll face UNAM Pumas on the road before hosting them in the second leg for a chance to lift another trophy at Lumen Field. The dates for those matches is still to be determined.
1’ — Things start off hot and contentious as Taty Castellanos slams into Xavier Arreaga as the Sounder wins a header to draw a yellow.
23’ — Castellanos misses just wide on the best look of the half for NYCFC after João Paulo pulls back on a pass from Jackson Ragen to let it go through but it gets picked off.
28’ — Sounders goal! Raúl Ruidíaz opens the scoring with a first-time finish on an excellent pass from Nouhou after a great diagonal from Jackson Ragen. 1-0 (4-1) Sounders
44’ — Nico Lodeiro wins the ball back just outside of NYCFC’s area and finds Ruidíaz inside the box. Ruidíaz takes a touch to create space, but his shot is saved.
51’ — New York pulls one back. After hitting the post twice, Alex Roldan gets beat coming into the box allowing a cutback and a finish through traffic. 1-1 (4-2)
60’ — Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan play a fantastic sequence down the field, and Roldan finds Morris for a great chance, but the shot hits a body on the goal line.
63’ — Another good chance for NYCFC, but Stefan Frei stands his ground and blocks the shot before the ball goes out for a goal kick.
68’ — Talles Magno turns Nouhou and gets a shot off, but Frei sprawls and palms it over the goal.
73’ — Stefan Frei! Talles Magno with another great look on a New York counter, but Frei drops and blocks the shot from point blank range!
88’ — Another close one for NYCFC, but Frei dives across goal and paws the ball away, then Kelyn Rowe draws a foul to stop the danger.
CCL Fever: For any complaints that anyone might have about the Sounders’ slow start or poor record to begin the MLS season, they’re absolutely burning up the Champions League. While they’ve gone 2-2-1 with a goal differential of 0 in MLS play — although it’s worth noting that both losses came in the opening two games — Seattle has yet to lose a game in CCL play, outscoring their opponents 13-3 while going 3-0-3. They’ve done it while rotating players in and out of the lineup for various reasons, and getting big performances from everyone on the roster. This is a team built for great things, for making history, and as they now advance to the CCL Finals there’s an opportunity for them to do just that. To make it all the sweeter, if the Sounders should become the first MLS team to win the CCL they’ll get to do it at home in front of their own fans, in front of you and me.
Stefan Frei is still elite: Stefan Frei has been criminally underappreciated and underrated by just about everyone outside of the Greater Seattle Metro area. He’s been, by just about any metric you want to judge goalkeepers, one of if not the best goalkeeper in MLS for years. He passes the eye test, too, frequently making highlight-reel saves and just frequently ruining the lives of MLS attackers. He’s like that commercial with Dikembe Mutombo, just popping up out of nowhere to crush the hopes of strikers big and small. He rightfully won the MLS Cup Final MVP in 2016, but has received little love when it comes to Goalkeeper of the Year. After missing time to injury in 2021, there were understandably questions about how he’d do in his return, but if tonight’s performance was any indication the concerns about Stefan Frei’s decline were greatly exaggerated. This could be the year that Frei finally gets the glory that he deserves.
Giving and getting Concacaf-ed: The Sounders weren't necessarily the best team on the field in this one. It still wasn’t the 80-90% control that Ronny Deila claimed his side achieved in the first leg, but NYCFC definitely seemed to have the better play in this one. It didn’t matter. NYCFC didn’t need to be just better, they needed to overcome a two-goal (and for a little while, a three-goal) deficit, and they needed to force the Sounders to make mistakes to get there. They tried to irritate and inflame Seattle into making those mistakes, tried to “Concacaf” their way to the final, but they chose the wrong path. The Sounders were equal to the physicality, able to bring a bit of their own, and while they took no guff from NYCFC they also refused to lose their heads. Instead, for each attempt to kick or grab or generally goad Seattle, the Sounders responded by luxuriating in their throw-ins, thoroughly surveying the options on goal kicks and set pieces, and taking every opportunity to stretch a cramp or wait to be checked for injury on any serious contact. Theirs was the way of the leaf; theirs was the way to victory.
Did you see that?!?
This is vicious. Lovely team goal. pic.twitter.com/FsjQCophMm— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) April 14, 2022
This goal was good to the last drop.
He said what?!?
Brian Schmetzer: "The culture of the club is to win. Every game, every trophy, every competition, we take all the games seriously. We don't buy the excuse where if you've committed to one tournament, you can't proceed to do well in the other. We don't buy that."— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) April 14, 2022
One stat to tell the tale
57 — The Sounders won 57 duels to NYCFC’s 46.
Man of the match
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