Sounders chase history in Champions League final

TUKWILA, Wash. — It was probably not the intent of Seattle Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer to create an unfiltered catch phrase in the aftermath of a historic accomplishment by his club.

“This is a massive (expletive) deal for the club, OK? This is a big deal,” Schmetzer said in the locker room after the Sounders advanced to the finals of the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time in club history.

That short little sound bite has become the marketing cornerstone for the Sounders heading into the first leg of the final against LigaMX club Pumas on Wednesday night in Mexico City.

Schmetzer is right. It is a big deal. Even Marshawn Lynch thinks so, cutting a promo for the team using Schmetzer’s words.

It’s big because no Major League Soccer team has won the CCL since its current format was adopted in 2008 and Seattle may have the best shot of any league team to date.

“Sigi (Schmid) always used to say, ‘We want to be the first team to do this. We want to be the first team to do that,’ because we’re Seattle Sounders,” Schmetzer said this week before the team departed for Mexico. “Not because we’re part of MLS, but that was our inherent culture that we continue to try and build.

“I would echo Sigi’s words. We want to be the first one to capture a CCL title. It’s a big, massive opportunity.”

Seattle is the fifth MLS team to make the CCL final, joining Real Salt Lake (2011), CF Montreal (2015), Toronto FC (2018) and LAFC (2020). MLS has come close to breaking through in those previous opportunities. RSL lost the second leg at home to Monterrey 1-0 in 2011 after a 2-2 draw in Mexico. Montreal played Club América to a 1-1 draw at Estadio Azteca before losing 4-2 at home.

Toronto reached a penalty shootout against Chivas de Guadalajara before losing 4-2 on PKs. And LAFC in a one-game final in 2020 led 1-0 before two goals from Tigres inside the final 20 minutes.

The Sounders may have the best chance to end the drought for MLS. Seattle will host the second leg on May 4, the first time the CCL final has been decided over two games since 2019. And unlike the earlier rounds of the tournament, road goals are not a tiebreaker in the final.

“You want to win things. You want to win trophies. That’s what you’re going to remember after your career,” Seattle midfielder Albert Rusnák said. “This is not only for myself, but for everybody here. We’re aware of the fact that no MLS team has won it before. All these things. We might not say it as often as you guys would like but everybody is aware of it.”

The Sounders have made the Champions League a priority for most of their time since joining MLS in 2009. This year is the seventh time the Sounders have appeared in the tournament and the fifth time they have advanced to at least the quarterfinals.

Before this season, Seattle’s best result was reaching the semifinals in 2013 before losing to Santos Laguna.

While it lacks the clout of the UEFA Champions League, which features the top clubs from the best leagues in Europe, winning the CONCACAF version is the pathway to the FIFA Club World Cup and the opportunity to play some of the world’s best club teams in a competitive match.

Even though Seattle has the advantage of hosting the second leg at home, Rusnák said the approach Wednesday will be the same as it was for earlier road matches in the tournament.

“We’re not going there to get a tie, or not to lose the game by a couple of goals. We’re going there to win the game,” Rusnák said. “Ultimately, that’s the mentality that we’ve had so far. ... The mentality is to win the game.”