Somehow carrying the mantle of favorites and underdogs at the same time, the Seattle Sounders enter leg 1 of the Concacaf Champions League Final with the weight of not just their own fans on their shoulders, but also of MLS league executives. Tuesday’s press conference was a half-hour exercise in coach Brian Schmetzer and midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro explaining how massive the match is — there was no swearing, sorry Marshawn.
For so, so many reasons US soccer looks south to judge itself. Before this league can claim that they are among the best in the world they have to be the best in the region. One tournament won’t determine that. But it takes a first CCL win to start having that conversation. Seattle is set up well — they pay as well, they’re healthier, they have the experiences, finally.
There’s also history. Herculez Gomez reminded Jeremiah of that in the above linked podcast. Sounders are 1-5-2, -11 in Mexico. Yes, they’ve won two-leg series and are a rare team to nab a victory in Mexico. Schmetzer didn’t speak of trying to manage the scoreline, but no one would be surprised if Seattle attempts to do so.
He’s chatted with former player and assistant Gonzalo Pineda, who played a few more matches for Pumas than he did Sounders. Brian mentioned that the team will lean a bit into the experiences of the Leagues Cup and Club León, while also noting that Pumas are their own club — talented, unique, and well coached.
The CCL Final is a two-leg affair. There is no away goal tie-breaker, so playing at home for leg 2 should help the Sounders a bit more, as the chance for overtime is greater. To make leg 2 matter, they must not fall behind multiple goals.
For FMF State of Mind, Eugene answers Three Questions.
SaH: How has the busy schedule impacted Pumas rotation? Are they set to field their best, available XI?
FMFSoM: Manager Andrés Lillini has done well to juggle the players with a hectic schedule; however, it hasn’t come without cost. Pumas has lost two straight road games, 2-0 against Atlético San Luis and 3-1 against Chivas, and they’ve sunk to 12th place and are barely holding on to the repechaje (think wild card) with one week to go. They’ve also lost striker Juan Ignacio Dinenno and midfielder Leonel López due to injuries they sustained against San Luis. Both were expected to miss around a week, so it will be close to see if they can play in the first leg.
(press release tweet on Dinenno and López)
SaH: Is this the type of team that plays dramatically different at home versus on the road?
FMFSoM: I don’t know about dramatically different, but they have to adjust, especially with the tough scheduling and injury issues they’ve faced. They’ve definitely struggled on the road this season, with the exception being wins at Querétaro on January 14 and Juárez on April 2. They were played out of the building by New England in the last round of the CCL, needing (and getting) a miracle at CU in the return leg.
That said, Seattle won’t be as cold as the game against the Revs was (the temperature in Foxboro that night got into the upper 20’s), and while not the entire reason the result in Foxboro was so bad, it certainly factored in. They did play in Tijuana on the same turf that Seattle has earlier in the year, losing a close 1-0 affair, so they’re not completely unfamiliar with playing on artificial turf. Also perhaps in their favor was that the match at Tijuana was in early February. Tijuana at that time of year is similar to Seattle in April (kinda wet and gloomy with average temperatures ranging from highs in the high 60’s to lows in the low 40’s). Every little bit helps.
SaH: For the Sounders this two-leg contest is the biggest in their history. Where is it for Pumas?
FMFSoM: It’s certainly big. No Mexican team wants to be the team that is the first to lose a CCL Final to an MLS team, especially since Pumas were the last Mexican team to lose a Concacaf Champions Cup (to Saprissa in 2005). But they’ve also played in the Copa Libertadores three times, and they lost to Boca Juniors on penalties in La Bombonera in the Final of the 2005 Copa Sudamericana. More recently they’ve played in the Liga MX Final during the 2020 Guard1anes tournament, losing to León. But there’s no pressure quite like that of a CCL Final, and we’ll find out what both teams are made of as they seek to make history.
Check out FMF State of Mind for their CCL coverage.