SEATTLE — There’s a funny thing about reaching the summit, it’s not necessarily the halfway point of the climb that’s the hardest. It’s usually right before you reach the peak. You think you’ve done all of the hard work navigating the steep inclines and uneven terrain, but there is still a little bit left to go.
There’s always a little bit left to go.
Sometimes you pass hikers who are making their way down, and you ask them how much farther it is, and when they say, “it’s just over there,” you look and realize, it’s not.
So you keep going, keep pushing past the pain and soreness, and while you curse those hikers for misleading you, you continue on, because you know if you persevere, at the end of the path lies something beautiful.
And when you finally reach the top, man, what a view.
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 Concacaf-ing to become the league’s first continental champions.
In the future, maybe, they’ll get a crack at the likes of Liverpool, Real Madrid or Palmeiras in the FIFA Club World Cup. In the near term, however, they’ll look to recover from a slow MLS start to keep their playoff streak alive. A feat which they may have to accomplish without the services of João Paulo, who received his champions medal on crutches, having been substituted off midway in the first half with a knee injury.
Nobody said the hike down would be easy either. But for now, enjoy the view from the top, Seattle.
Sounders were deserving winners
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, it was the 2019 MLS Cup where they started slowly before finishing strong. That wasn’t the case here, as the Sounders dominated for the overwhelming majority of play. Which isn’t to say Pumas didn't have their opportunities, but thanks to another stellar performance from Stefan Frei, they weren’t able to breach the Sounders’ net, and the Sounders defense kept Pumas mostly at bay.
A worthy run to the title
There’s sometimes a wish in tournaments to see the big dogs knocked out early, so you have an easier run to the title. While it’s true the Sounders didn’t face off against the likes of Tigres or Club America, they nonetheless ran through serious competition on the way to the title. Impressively, the Sounders went undefeated during the entire run, including twice in Mexico and on the road in New York. Toss in a draw in their opening series against Motagua, and you have a dominant run by the newest continental champions. That they supplemented those four road draws with four dominating wins at home, sealed the deal.
Ruidiaz breaks ice, then Pumas’ back
One of the most nervy 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 is when 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, especially important in Concacaf matches, where deficits mean time-wasting and cynicism.
Speaking of cynicism, it was unclear whether Pumas were trying to replicate gridiron football, or late-80s NBA basketball. In the buildup, Schmetzer joked about the Detroit Pistons of a bygone era, but he likely didn’t think he’d be so prescient as to the tactics on display. Opening up with a orange card tackle that took Nouhou out of the match, Pumas took the phrase “get stuck in” to rather absurd lengths, out fouling the Sounders by several multiples, and somehow managing to keep 11 players on the field. That they resorted to such tactics perhaps was just reflective of the talent disparity between the sides, something rarely said about MLS when battling against Liga MX sides.
Much of the credit for the Sounders’ dominant display has to go to the midfield, which dominated Pumas for much of the match. 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 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 fabulous game with the third goal of the match late in the game. And the celebration at Lumen was well and truly on.