In a Liga MX-MLS showdown, the CONCACAF Champions League final between the Seattle Sounders and Pumas UNAM is all set. We preview the matchup that will determine the best team in the region, and explore why it might finally be time for an MLS side to compete in the Club World Cup.
Once again, the CONCACAF Champions League will be determined by an MLS side and a Liga MX side. The two best leagues in the region have made the CCL final a traditional battle ground over the past decade, with Liga MX having a clean sweep over MLS sides. Never has Major League Soccer been so close to the Club World Cup than with the final that will be played in the coming weeks (save for 2001, when the LA Galaxy were scheduled to compete in the tournament, which was later cancelled).
The Seattle Sounders and Pumas UNAM will play each other over two legs on April 27 at Pumas’ Estadio Olimpico and May 4 at Seattle’s Lumen Field. The away goals rule will not count in the final as the title will be determined by total aggregate goals.
For the Sounders, the CCL title could be the culmination of a near decade of winning soccer. The Sounders have won four U.S. Open Cups, one Supporters Shield, and two MLS Cups, for which they have played four of the last six finals.
For Pumas, the story is a bit different. The club has stumbled its way to the final and their defeat of Cruz Azul was shocking. Pumas are seventh in Liga MX at the moment and have been mediocre for a year.
The CONCACAF Champions League Final From the Seattle Sounders’ Perspective
For the Sounders, never has an MLS team been so close and can even be considered the favorite to win this era of the CONCACAF Champions League (which began in 2008). The Sounders made short work of arguably a much better Leon side before dismantling the current MLS Cup champions NYCFC in the semis.
Led by Nicolás Lodeiro, goal scorer Raúl Ruidíaz, x-factor Albert Rusnák, Jordan Morris and club legend Fredy Montero, the Sounders have a team built to win the competition. The question becomes if they can defeat MLS’ biggest CCL enemy, the psychological game. Many MLS clubs have wilted under the pressure of having to win CCL, and oftentimes gave lesser opponents a lot of energy to win the title.
The CONCACAF Champions League Final From Pumas UNAM’s Perspective
At this point, Pumas is playing with house money. It’s a miracle the team made it this far, and all the pressure is on the Sounders to win the CCL — which makes Pumas extremely deadly. In its run to the final, the club shocked Saprissa, defeated an overconfident New England Revolution side, and survived Cruz Azul.
Led by Alfredo Talavera, Juan Dinenno, Diogo, and Nicolás Freire, the team has some interesting pieces, but is an imbalanced side that will hope that the pressure on the opponent will do most of the work for them. Over the past half decade, Pumas have been very mediocre, and have been nearly a lock for a midtable Liga MX finish.
What Could Happen?
The final will be determined by one key factor: Can the Seattle Sounders put aside MLS’ inferiority complex when playing teams from Mexico and write a new chapter in the league’s history book?
Or will it be the same story yet again for MLS, so close yet so far. Pumas is not exactly the type of team Liga MX wants representing it in a Club World Cup, and it will say a lot about MLS if one of its premier franchises over the past decade loses to one of Liga MX’s least attractive sides.