Sounders reach Champions League final, beating NYCFC

HARRISON, N.J. — The Seattle Sounders reached the CONCACAF Champions League final for the first time, beating New York City FC 4-2 on aggregate in the two-leg semifinal.

The second leg of the semifinal matchup between Major League Soccer teams finished 1-1 on Wednesday night thanks largely to a memorable performance in goal from Seattle’s Stefan Frei.

“It’s a trophy the club certainly covets,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said about winning the Champions League. “I think that’s something that we have made public. ... The constant theme throughout this club, the culture of the club is to win every game, every trophy of a competition.”

Raúl Ruidíaz scored in the first half to give Seattle a needed road goal and a three-goal advantage on aggregate. Santiago Rodríguez scored early in the second half for the reigning MLS Cup champions, but NYCFC was an able to get another shot past Frei.

“I think we created enough to score at least three goals, but their goalkeeper was unbelievable today,” NYCFC coach Ronny Deila said.

The Seattle goalkeeper was credited with seven saves, most of them coming in the final 25 minutes as NYCFC desperately pushed for goals.

“Sometimes teams throw the kitchen sink at it. I think today they threw a bathtub at it,” Frei said. “But we were able to withstand.”

Seattle will face LigaMX side Pumas in the two-leg final looking to be the first MLS team to win the title under its current format. The Sounders are the fifth MLS team to reach the final under the current format joining Real Salt Lake (2011), CF Montreal (2015), Toronto FC (2018) and LAFC (2020).

The first leg will be played in Mexico City at the end of April with Seattle hosting the second leg in early May.

The Sounders led 3-1 after the first-leg of the semifinal matchup last week in Seattle. Albert Rusnák, Jordan Morris and Nicolás Lodeiro scored for Seattle in the first leg while Thiago Martins scored a key road goal for NYCFC.

But Frei was the star in the second leg for Seattle. Frei made three significant saves in a 10-minute span midway through the second half. He denied Martins off a header in the 63rd minute. Frei punched Talles Mango’s shot over the bar in the 68th minute and five minutes later made a stunning kick save to deny Mango wide open after a perfect pass from Valentín Castellanos.

NYCFC also had a shot off a corner kick in the 75th minute headed for goal that was saved by the back of Seattle defender Kelyn Rowe.

Seattle did get the road goal it needed in the first half from Ruidíaz in the 28th minute. Ruidíaz had not scored in any competition yet this season for Seattle.

Rodríguez scored in the opening minutes of the second half moments after NYCFC rattled two shots off the post of the Seattle goal.

“I was really proud of the players. I think they did everything except putting the ball in the net more,” Deila said.