Joao Paulo suffered a right ACL tear in the opening half of the Sounders’ CONCACAF Champions League final Wednesday, coach Brian Schmetzer confirmed to Sports Radio 93.3 KJR FM on Thursday.

The two-way midfielder will be out for the remainder of the season. Joao Paulo, 31, was named to the MLS Best XI team last season and was a finalist for league MVP. His absence makes the Sounders’ goal of winning the MLS Cup much more difficult.

The Sounders defeated Liga MX side Pumas UNAM 3-0 at Lumen Field for a 5-2 aggregate scoring lead to win their first CCL title. Joao Paulo was subbed off in the 29th minute with the match goalless. He was carried to the stadium’s corridors on a stretcher to be evaluated.

Obed Vargas, the teenaged midfielder from Alaska, closed out Joao Paulo’s minutes in the historic win. Vargas completed 82.8% percent of his passes in 61 minutes.

The Sounders Academy product started four of the club’s opening five matches of the year and was strategic and brazen in his movements alongside Joao Paulo and midfielder Cristian Roldan. Vargas completed 83% of his 171 passes through all competitions during the stretch.

“That was an easy decision because the kid has played some big games for us,” Schmetzer said of selecting Vargas to sub on. “He stepped in and performed — the kid played pretty damn well. Happy to have a good deep squad. That is what’s required to win a tournament like this and to compete in MLS.”

Advertising

Joao Paulo was on the Sounders sideline for the second half Wednesday and was escorted postgame to the stage by teammates Alex Roldan and Fredy Montero to receive his championship medal and participate in the confetti-filled celebration.

The Brazilian was recently signed through 2023 with an option for 2024. He received his U.S. green card last winter, so he could remain in Seattle with his young family while rehabilitating the injury as teammate Jordan Morris did last year. Morris suffered two ACL tears and had Dr. Bert Mandelbaum in Santa Monica, California, handle both procedures.

FIFA’s transfer window is closed. Sounders midfielder Jordy Delem rejoined full training in March from an ACL tear and a decision needs to be made whether he’ll be signed or not. He plays the same position as Joao Paulo.

In addition to Vargas, the Sounders have Danny Leyva and Josh Atencio who proved last season they’re capable of controlling tempo in the middle. Leyva and Atencio started this year injured and have only appeared in two MLS matches apiece.

Leyva logged 10 minutes as a reserve during the CCL quarterfinal series against Liga MX side Club Leon.

Sounders left back Nouhou suffered a thigh bruise, which Schmetzer didn’t regard as concerning. The Sounders (2-4-1) return to MLS play with a road game against FC Dallas (4-1-4) on Saturday and the first-choice starters weren’t expected to play because of the quick turnaround.