As the Sounders bench spilled onto the field in rapturous triumph following the barely audible chirp of the final whistle, there was an inevitability about their celebration.
This was no fluke. One of the most impressive accomplishments in the 26-year history of MLS was also a rout of the highest order.
The Sounders smashed visiting Pumas 3-0 on Wednesday at Lumen Field in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Final to cruise to a 5-2 aggregate victory and one of the most significant trophies in MLS history. In the process, the Sounders registered the most lopsided win in CONCACAF Champions League Final history, become the first MLS club to win the title in the competition’s restructured format, and set the competition’s attendance record at an ear-splitting 68,741.
And Pumas heard each and every one by the end of the match.
The win reverberated throughout the federation, but specifically throughout MLS. No MLS club had ever won the competition since its shift into its current format in 2008. A Mexican club had won the crown for 16 consecutive seasons before Wednesday, and Seattle’s was just the fifth Finals appearance for an MLS club in that run.
In the midst of the celebration, the weight of the moment laid heavy.
“There will be many more CONCACAF Champions League winners, but there is only that does it for the first time for MLS,” said goalkeeper Stefan Frei. “We wrote ourselves into the history books.”
The Sounders’ charge back was imperious. After trailing 2-0 in the first leg, Seattle scored the final five goals in the series, two late in the first leg in Mexico and three more Wednesday to mark the most dominant match in the competition’s Finals history.
The Sounders weathered a Pumas side intent upon causing chaos, especially in the first half. Within the first half hour, central midfielder João Paolo and left back Nouhou had been knocked out of the game with injuries, forcing the Sounders to shift in Kelyn Rowe for Nouhou and 16-year-old Homegrown Player Obed Vargas for the seasoned João Paolo with about 15 minutes left in the first half.
Still, the Sounders continued charging, pushing Pumas in possession, twisting into the attacking half, stunting their attacks and shifting the point of attack. Even without two critical cogs defensively, the Sounders still managed to hold Pumas to a single shot on goal, a 68th-minute blast Frei parried aside brilliantly that turned out to be Pumas’ only legitimate chance all game.
The match was scoreless approaching halftime, and with no away goal tiebreaker, the first leg’s 2-2 scoreline essentially reset the series. The Sounders needed a goal. And they only had to wait 45 minutes to get it.
With Pumas putting up fierce defensive resistance, Albert Rusnák stepped through three defenders in the 45th minute just before halftime and squared a ball into the box that found its way to the feet of Xavier Arreaga. Tangled underneath, Arreaga managed to shuttle the ball backward to Raúl Ruidíaz, whose shot ricocheted off a defender and past the keeper for a 1-0 lead and a deafening roar.
It sent the Sounders into half with a 1-0 lead, but it was only the beginning.
The Sounders in the second half increasingly tilted the field toward the right and into the Roldan channel, a productive attacking conduit that ran the overwhelming majority of Seattle’s attacks up the right flank where right back Alex Roldan and right midfielder Cristian Roldan set their advantage. The Roldan brothers shared 15 passes between each other, far and away the most between any two players between either side.
The partnership paid off.
In the 80th minute, with the tension ratcheting up by the moment, the Roldan channel down the right sprung the match’s release valve. After a turnover just outside the Seattle box, five players combined to take just 13 touches down the right flank in a lightning-fast 12 seconds to notch the Sounders’ second goal.
From there, the rest of the match unfolded like a coronation. The Sounders, already imperious in their control of the match, only increased the pressure, building on the crowd’s raucous atmosphere.
That helped lead to a third and final goal, a capper to what was arguably the most historic day in MLS history. In the 88th minute, an increasingly dangerous Morris managed to bang a shot off the left post, and the rebound fell to Lodeiro, one of the most important architects of the Sounders’ run, and he banged it home for the final salvo.
The Sounders’ defense was noteworthy. Led by the partnership of Arreaga and Yeimar, they continually swept off Pumas’ attempts to crash the party. Perhaps most impressive was Vargas, who was a steady presence next to Rusnak in keeping Pumas from dangerous positions. Vargas was notably well spaced for much of his 60-minute stint and rarely looked overmatched by the stage. No mean feat for a player who was still three months from being born the last time a club from outside Mexico won this competition.
Seattle could have hardly scripted a better run in these championships. At times without their best players, they persisted. In the face of history, they pushed to a place every MLS team has aspired.