SEATTLE — Nicolás Lodeiro had one thing on his mind when he scored the third and final goal to clinch the biggest win in MLS history. The Sounders captain ripped off his jersey and ran straight for the heart of what makes Seattle the best soccer town in the country: the supporters.
Lodeiro hammered home the final goal of a 3-0 win on Wednesday night at Lumen Field, clinching a 5-2 aggregate victory over Pumas of Liga MX to claim the Concacaf Champions League crown for the Seattle Sounders, the first MLS team to win the competition. After Lodeiro sealed the win in the 88th minute, the Uruguayan made sure to celebrate with the best fanbase in America.
“This feels fucking awesome,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said after the match. “2019 was great, but this was such a hard tournament to win for us, for MLS in general.”
— Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League (@TheChampions) May 5, 2022
Seattle will now represent Concacaf at the 2022 Club World Cup, facing off against the regional champions from around the world, including either Liverpool or Real Madrid from Europe.
MLS teams twice won the CCL’s predecessor, the Champions’ Cup, but never the current format of the Champions League, despite reaching four finals. It was only fitting MLS finally broke through against Pumas, the team that lost the last time a Liga MX club failed to be crowned champion of Concacaf (Saprissa of Costa Rica won in 2005).
And it was only fitting MLS broke through with Seattle.
A tournament-record 68,741 packed Lumen Field, filling the idyllic Washington evening with joy for the city, the club and the best team in Concacaf. Many fans stayed well after the final whistle, not wanting to go home, refusing to let the feeling end while celebrating with the players.
Record broken. pic.twitter.com/KPyVht3ZQO— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) May 5, 2022
"There will be many more Concacaf Champions League winners, but there is only one that does it for the first time for MLS."@SoundersFC' GK Stefan Frei shares his thoughts after winning CCL ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/hbu2FgYS0S— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) May 5, 2022
The huge crowd — on a Wednesday night, no less — was the embodiment of what MLS wants to be. I’ve been to sporting events with louder crowds, more intense fans and more passionate supporters, but I’ve never seen a better celebration of why we love sports as was on display as the Sounders made history.
The atmosphere pervaded the city on gameday. Statues around Seattle suddenly sported green jerseys or scarves. Sounders flags topped the city’s most iconic landmarks, including the Space Needle. In many cities, especially ones with other major professional sports teams, MLS clubs are often an afterthought. In Seattle, the Sounders are an ingrained part of the culture. The city is fully engaged with the team.
Hours before the game, the streets around Lumen Field filled with green — and a smattering of Pumas gold from a strong contingent of fans from Mexico. Hours after the match, green-clad supporters continued to sing into the night. While Wednesday night was — as Marshawn Lynch called it — a big fuckin’ deal, the crowd wasn’t abnormal for a team that has long provided some of the best vibes in the country.
Few MLS fanbases can match the passion on display in Seattle, where club and supporters work in unison, a model for the rest of the league to copy or envy. MLS commissioner Don Garber, on hand in Seattle, couldn’t have asked for a better team to win the league’s first Champions League title.
And the Sounders did it in resounding fashion, leaving all doubt behind with two late goals to cap the two-legged victory.
Not that it was easy, despite what the final score may suggest. The Sounders lost their dynamic Cameroonian fullback Nouhou Tolo to injury 10 minutes into the game before Brazilian metronome João Paulo had to be stretchered off inside half an hour. Replacing the two international stars were Americans Kelyn Rowe and Obed Vargas, a 16-year-old Homegrown player.
Albert Rusnák, Seattle’s other starting holding midfielder, went into Papa Bear mode when cub Vargas came on. The Slovakian was all over the pitch stopping Pumas attacks and pushing the Sounders forward. He wasn’t a box-to-box midfielder, he was a Portland-to-Vancouver midfielder.
It was Rusnák who set up the opener for the Sounders, driving into the box before playing it square to Xavier Arreaga, who laid the ball off for Raúl Ruidíaz to score via a fortunate deflection just before halftime.
The match remained finely poised for the next 35 minutes until Seattle’s three star attackers combined to make it 2-0. Jordan Morris raced down the right wing before finding Lodeiro, who in turn found Ruidíaz in the 80th minute, allowing a collective exhale from the Seattle faithful.
The punctuation mark came in the 88th minute. Morris, the hometown hero, had his shot carom off the post before Lodeiro scored on the rebound, prompting his celebration with the crowd and a Messi moment, lifting his No. 10 jersey to the sky.
With the third and final goal there could be no doubt Seattle is the best team in North America.