In the 17th minute, Brian Schmetzer was on the sideline motioning his arms up and down, a gesture he’s used this season to tell his Sounders players to “tranquilo,” or calm down.
It looked like Schmetzer was fanning the flames Wednesday. The Sounders filled Lumen Field for the 2019 MLS Cup win, but the experience didn’t quell any emotions for the CONCACAF Champions League final against Pumas UNAM.
An expected sellout crowd materialized into a tournament-record 68,741 fans engulfed in a shared overload of adrenaline and emotion. How a player calms down in that atmosphere is a mystery unsolved.
Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz and midfielder Nico Lodeiro cranked the electricity up to full wattage to collect a 3-0 win over Pumas. The result pushed Seattle’s aggregate score to 5-2 to win the Champions League title.
No MLS team has won the regional trophy, the Sounders being the fifth to advance to a final. The tournament was dominated by Liga MX sides, which won the past 13 under the current format. Pumas were the last Mexican team to lose in any CONCACAF final, the last being in 2005.
The most recent being Wednesday. Along with making history for the Sounders and the league, the Sounders earned $500,000 and a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup, which will likely be played in 2023. English Premier League side Chelsea FC is the reigning Club World Cup champion.
Sounders keeper Stefan Frei was named the tournament MVP and finished with 25 saves and four shutouts. Cristian Roldan led in assists with five.
“It means everything,” an emotional Frei said in a TV interview following the win. “It’s a Wednesday and we’re packing this place with 68,000 people. The passion is so strong in this city and we appreciate it. I’m so happy for everybody that we’re able to achieve this for them.
“It’s a childhood dream come true. A sold-out stadium that’s here to cheer for you. In the end, it’s all about winning trophies. We want to win trophies, and today’s a big one.”
The fire was authentic and artificial to start the on-field CCL finals action at Lumen.
The U.S. national anthem and Sounders supporters’ boom-boom-clap tradition were synchronized to a pyrotechnics show that ranged from swirling fire to a ring of sparklers on the outermost circle.
Once the opening whistle blew, the players took over with fiery plays and confrontations. Ruidiaz set the place ablaze with excitement with his opening goal in the 45th minute. The buildup was from a set piece, center back Xavier Arreaga tapping a forward pass to Ruidiaz, who was dead center in the box, the Peruvian beaming a right-footed shot at goal that deflected off a player and had Pumas keeper Alfredo Talavera twisted the wrong way in attempting to make the save.
Seattle outshot Pumas 8-2 in the opening half.
“There was a good resolve within the group,” Schmetzer said of the halftime mood in the Sounders locker room. “We tweaked a couple of things in our attacking movements, so halftime was calm. Right now (postgame), it’s probably going off.”
Ruidiaz’s brace was a beautiful build up, with Lodeiro waiting patiently to get a feed to Ruidiaz for the goal in the 80th minute. Schmetzer gave a nod to midfielder Albert Rusnak for his composure to help retain possession and execute the passing sequence for the goal.
Lodeiro followed the play with a strike of his own off a rebound in the box. He was called for a yellow card for taking his shirt off.
The Sounders were the ones who suffered from the heated altercations in the opening half as left fullback Nouhou (11th minute) and defensive midfielder Joao Paulo (29th minute) were subbed off with apparent injuries, the latter carried via stretcher to the stadium corridors for evaluation.
Early word on the injury is that Joao Paulo suffered a right ACL tear while Nouhou has a right quad contusion, according to Schmetzer. The stars still took part in the celebration, Joao Paulo pumping his crutches in the air as confetti shot into the sky when the players raised the trophy.
The CCL final is the first time this calendar season the Sounders’ full complement of first-choice players started a match together. The absences, either because of injury or international duty, meant midfielders Kelyn Rowe and Obed Vargas, who subbed on for Nouhou and Joao Paulo, had already built chemistry with the others and made CCL appearances in early rounds.
Pumas are known for their comebacks but couldn’t find the scoring opportunities Wednesday. Frei deflected their best opportunity in the 65th minute, a header by Diogo.
The visitors had Mexican international center back Arturo Ortiz back from suspension for yellow-card accumulation. They were without defender Alan Mozo because of a leg injury.
Pumas advanced to their league’s postseason and will face Chivas on Sunday.
Seattle returns to MLS play Saturday with a road match against FC Dallas. The Sounders (2-4-1) are 26th in the 28-team league’s Supporters’ Shield table. The club also opens U.S. Open Cup next week.
“There’s going to be more success following our success,” Schmetzer said of MLS teams in CONCACAF play. “Give me six months. Let me get past Dallas, get past the Open Cup game at Starfire, which is going to be a big deal. Let me get through some of those games and maybe I can reflect a little bit more.”