Sounders secures historic win over Pumas to lift the CCL title in Seattle

The Seattle Sounders made history on Wednesday night when they became the first MLS team to win the modern-version of the CONCACAF Champions League with a 3-0 (5-2 aggregate) win over Pumas. Americans were front and center of their run with Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan, and Sefan Frei playing important roles. Behind it all was a remarkable effort by head coach and Seattle native Brian Schmetzer. ASN’s Brian Sciaretta breaks it all down. 


Brian Sciaretta


May 05, 2022

6:10 AM

FOR MLS TEAMS, winning the CONCACAF Champions League has been a priority and a dream. Until Wednesday night, it has been an elusive goal as Liga MX has held a stranglehold on the tournament since its current format changed in 2009. In 2022 it became a reality as the Seattle Sounders defeated Pumas UNAM 3-0 (5-2 on aggregate) to become the first American team that is Champions of CONCACAF.

The game was every bit the spectacle that American fans of the sport would want. While it has been great to see many soccer specific gems opening throughout the league over the past 15 years, a huge NFL stadium worked out very well. Over 68,000 fans packed Lumen Field and provided an electric atmosphere gave the event world-class environment.

Seattle had to fight through a ton in this game and it was a remarkable test of mental strength. Head coach Brian Schmetzer was able to start his entire first-choice starting XI but injuries forced Seattle into making two first half subs. Kelyn Rowe had to replace Nouhou at left back in just the 11th minute and then in the 29th, MVP candidate and DP Joao Paulo had to be replaced by 16-year-old U.S. U-20 midfielder Obed Vargas.

Despite being forced to adjust early, Seattle weathered a brief storm between the 30th-40th minutes and then resumed a dominant role in the game. The first goal came just before the half when Albert Rusnak moved into the box with expert dribbling, sent a pass in front of the goal which found central defender Xavier Arreaga.

The Ecuadorian international laid the ball off to Raul Ruidaiz who hit a shot that took a deflection and found the back of the net.

Seattle was able to turn what was a rough start in the first half into an advantage by the break.

The start of the second half saw the Sounders continue with the better run of play but Schmetzer was limited to just one more substitution window the rest of the game.

In the 80th minute, Seattle put the game out of reach on a wonderful team goal. Rusnak dribbled in traffic to maintain possession of the ball. He found Alex Roldan who sprung Jordan Morris down the right side. Morris sent in a pass to the top of the box for Nicolas Lodeiro. Lodeiro quickly set up Ruidiaz for his second goal of the game.

Then in the 87th, it was game over. Rusnak found Morris who hit a shot off the post and Lodeiro slammed home the rebound.

After four minutes of stoppage time, the whistle blew and Seattle was crowned the champions – becoming the first MLS team to win the tournament in its current format.

There is so much to break down from this game.


Historic and meaningful


This was huge and this was important. For years, never having won this tournament was a black mark on the league. Don Garber was always asked about the league’s teams coming up short. Players were always asked about it. Fans were always asked about it.

For as much as it has been a story about the league’s teams never having won it, the fact that Seattle winning it should be equally as big of a story. The Sounders went to Mexico twice and didn’t lose either game. When they returned home, they won convincingly.

Seattle did not go on a “miracle run” to win it. Seattle did not bunker and try to scrape by with goals against the run of play. Seattle was the best team in this tournament, no question.

The win makes MLS less isolated and more relevant. It’s important to note, MLS teams still are the underdogs to win the CCL, but the gap is closing dramatically.

MLS teams are very competitive with Liga MX but the “big” Liga MX teams such as Club America, Monterrey, Tigres, and Cruz Azul – when they are in form – are tough.

MLS teams defeated Liga MX teams only twice from 2008-2017. Then from 2018 through 2022, it has happened 11 times. Liga MX still has the edge in that span having won 14 matchups over MLS teams, but MLS is significantly improving the past five years.

Seattle’s win is the culmination of something that has been building for half a decade.



Schmetzer’s story


Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer has had a storybook ride through Seattle soccer. A native of city, he began playing for the Sounders in the early incarnations of the team starting in 1980. He was also the head coach of the USL-edition of Seattle and then was an assistant under Sigi Schmdt when the MLS era began. After Sigi was fired, Schmetzer took over and has won two MLS Cups.

As an assistant, he has won four U.S. Open Cups. As a head coach, he has won two USL titles, two MLS Cups, and now the CONCACAF Champions League.

Despite all of these accomplishments, he has never won the MLS Coach of the Year award. That is wild because he’s probably the league’s best coach over the past decade. Now he is a trailblazer.


The wins tell part of the story. It’s also how he has managed one of the league’s most visible teams and some of the league’s biggest stars. The DPs the Sounders have signed under him have almost entirely worked out – Lodeiro, Ruidiaz, Joao Paulo, and before them – Clint Dempsey.

In recent years, he has some an impressive job bringing in young players such as Josh Atencio and now Obed Vargas. Older players who have been at career crossroads have come to Seattle and found a away to be productive in meaningful situations – Kelyn Rowe, Will Bruin, and even Stefan Frei at one point. Everyone seems to hit their potential or their ceiling in Seattle these days, which is a direct reflection of the coach.

Thing about this final. Schmetzer’s Seattle team rallied from a 2-0 deficit in Mexico City (when American teams tend to fade late in games) to force a 2-2 draw. Then in the second leg, his team was able to handle losing two top starters through injury in the first half. In that process, he wasn’t afraid to bring on a 16 year old central midfielder with the score still 0-0.

There is also class. When you watch the celebrations last night, Schmetzer stood on the sidelines to applaud his players as opposed to trying to be front and center. He then went over to salute the fans afterward up close.



Roldan, Morris, & Frei were huge

Seattle is quite active in playing American players but throughout this entire tournament, three Americans made huge contributions.

Stefan Frei, 36, became an American citizen in 2017 at the age of 31 and had he been American his entire career, he probably would have had a lot of USMNT caps by now. My opinion is that he would have been the top American keeper for a stretch starting in 2016.

In this tournament, Frei has been first-rate and he wasn’t just named the CCL’s best goalkeeper, he won the Player of the Tournament as well.

From a national team perspective, Frei could be interesting to watch. The goalkeeping position has a lot of question marks. Zack Steffen and Ethan Horvath do not play regularly. Matt Turner just returned from injury but once he moves to Arsenal this summer, he probably won’t play regularly either.

Is there a better American keeper who plays regularly right now, who is in as good of form as Frei, and who has shown an ability to win big games? No.

He might be older, but as of now that doesn’t matter. It’s all about the present, and he’s making a strong case for him in the present.

Cristian Roldan had an exceptional CCL tournament run. He finished with one goal, five assists, and two drawn penalties. He came through big offensively against NYCFC and then against Leon. But it wasn’t just the offensive production, Roldan’s work rate, defense, and ball-winning was on another level. He brings energy to games and in games like this, energy is what wins it. But make sure to look at his duel-winning numbers.

Jordan Morris meanwhile looked as close as he has to being in the 2020 form as ever. In the first leg against Leon, he was instrumental in scoring a big goal. Against NYCFC, he was also again critical in the first leg with a goal and an assist. Then in the second leg against Pumas, the second and third goals do not happen without him – the first came off of his run and the second was a rebound off his shot. He is still a top American winger when the game is open and there is space.


Lodeiro and Rusnak step up


Nicolas Lodeiro, 33, cemented his legacy as the greatest Sounder in history and one of the most important designated players in the history of the league. Even when he wasn’t at the top of his game, such as the first leg against Pumas, he still was there at the big moments. In the second leg, he had four key passes and 72 touches as he helped to control a midfield and get the ball into the front three.

Albert Rusnak, 27, was a big offseason acquisition for the Sounders and this was a massive performance that showed why he is already important to the Sounders. His skill played a role in the build-up to all three goals. His defense limited Pumas, and on top of that – he was simply fun to watch. He has embraced his move to Seattle and looks to be an important player for them for a long time.


Huge stage for Vargas


One of the big stories from this game is how Obed Vargas had to come into the game in the 29th minute for an injured Joao Paulo – a designated players and MVP candidate.

For a 16-year-old to enter into that kind of stage – a final, with everything on the line and the score even – is remarkable. Vargas wasn’t Lodeiro or Rusnak in terms of his impact in the midfield, but he certainly looked ready for the moment. For a player his age, it is remarkable.

“It means everything to us,” Vargas told ASN earlier this month about the CCL Run. “We want to become that first MLS team to win that tournament, put the Sounders in history forever.”

A native of Alaska, Vargas is a very mature person for a person in his mid-teens. You can see why he could be a huge “recruiting battle” for either the U.S. or Mexico. For now, he seems intent on playing for the United States at the youth level. If he has good experiences there, the more likely it will be that he ultimately picks the United States, even if he grew up a fan of El Tri.

He still has a long way to go, but is way ahead of the curve. He should be a big player for the U.S. U-20 team this cycle, where he will be playing up an age group.


Seattle moving forward


Of course, Seattle cannot celebrate this title for very long. The team has rightfully be prioritizing this tournament and this has seen them start off their MLS season slowly – seven points in seven games.

Seattle is going to have to either put aside the thrill of winning this tournament and refocus or use the thrill of winning it as motivation to keep up with winning. Seattle can’t suffer a let-down, and it will be tough.

How does Schmetzer get his team to get excited for a trip to Dallas this Saturday after a final win? Maybe he rolls with a younger lineup and instead focuses on the season in the following game.

Seattle is in a hole right now in the Western Conference and it needs to play like one of the best teams in the league. It will be massively disappointing if Seattle struggles like Toronto did after its run to the final of the 2018 CCL (when it only lost in a shootout) and never made the playoffs. This is a Seattle team you want to see be the class of the league, and Schmetzer has his work cut out for him.