As they entered the second round of the Concacaf Champions League in New Jersey with a 3-1 lead, the Seattle Sounders were always favored to get the job done and advance to their first continental final. And with the Sounders mostly full force and NYCFC coming into the match particularly shorthanded – Maxi Moralez and Maxime Chanot were ruled out prior to the game – the task could have seemed much easier.
Still, MLS matches – regardless of the finish format – are known for not planning, least of all when Concacaf is involved. After all, Concacaf’d is a sentence for a reason, and 10 seconds into the match, things almost went off track when Valentín Castellanos threw himself into Xavier Arreaga and got one of the fastest yellow cards ever.
But the Sounders coped with the early aggression from the home team and were comfortable for much of the first half. When Raúl Ruidíaz deftly redirected a precise post from Nouhou past Sean Johnson into the net, it looked like it was all over and the Sounders secured their first Champions League final.
They were, but it was not quite as pleasant as the final result might indicate.
While the Sounders looked out of the rest of the first half with confidence, the second half was more than a bit of a struggle. But for some heroic goalkeeping play and more than a few random rejections, things could have gotten a lot more skewed. In the end, however, Sounders saw the result, and can look forward to the chance to hoist another trophy on the Lumen field.
About that goalkeeping game. That the scoring line remained as comfortable as it did was largely to Sounders’ defensive wall. Especially in the second half, when the NYCFC apparently poured all their outfielders into Sounder’s penalty area, Stefan Frei repeatedly repulsed their attacks, either by controlling an endless barrage of crosses, or stopping sharp shots that had no case to be kept out of. . the back of the target. The football gods must have been impressed with the show as they gave a helping hand on the few shots that made it past Frei only to jump off the post.
Like Albert Rusnák, Raúl Ruidíaz had endured a slow start to the 2022 season, although in the latter case it was mostly due to a longer injury absence. Ruidíaz was involved in almost every way against the NYCFC, helping to ease attacks and provide the safety net Sounders needed with a great finish midway through the first half. NYCFC fans might complain that his biggest contribution was his use of some of Concacaf’s “dark arts” with wasted time, but Ruidíaz is nothing if not a showman.
It was not the first time this year that the Sounders had to present a backhand action in the second half of a match that they had until then largely controlled. While they were against Leon on the back foot for much of the match, they were here in cruise control through the break. However, the NYCFC came out swinging and got their reward early in the second half, and from there it was all hands on deck. To be fair, the Sounders had more than a couple of chances in the second half to add another goal, they did not, and as Frei said after the game, if they play like that on the road against the Pumas, then it probably will not work. to end well.
With the Sounders on the rise for most of the first half, part of the credit goes to Jackson Ragen, who continues his development as a reliable MLS center-back. With an impressive calm on the ball, Ragen broke through the NYCFC defense on more than one occasion with precise diagonal balls, none more impressive than the one that led to Sounder’s only goal. It was another steady performance for the one-time signing of Tacoma Defiance, especially important as Yeimar continues to care for a nagging ankle injury.
When he returned from suspension, Nouhou was missed for all the reasons fans typically miss him, but he added some less anticipated contributions in his return. Nouhou was instrumental in Sounders’ goal and sent in a pass that was so well completed by Ruidíaz. It was Nouhou’s first assist since 2020 and only his third in his professional career. While fans have long demanded that Nouhou himself get a goal, Schmetzer will likely be happier to see Nouhou’s assist total escalate, as it would generally be more beneficial for the Sounders, especially as they appear to be balancing their attacks going forward.