Thirty minutes into the Concacaf Champions League Final against Pumas UNAM on Wednesday night at Lumen Field, things were not looking promising for the Seattle Sounders.
Starting left back Nouhou had exited after just 11 minutes with a thigh contusion, and one of the best central midfielders in Major League Soccer in João Paulo was stretchered off with a knee injury. It appeared that after all the guts and guile it took for the Sounders, and MLS as a whole, to finally summit the CCL mountaintop, fate had yet another cruel ending in store.
“It was easy,” Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said of the decision to throw Vargas into the match after 29 minutes. “The kid had already played in some big games. He played against León, he played against Motagua.”
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Vargas repaid Schmetzer and the coaching staff by putting in an admirable shift, helping Seattle stave off any real sustained pressure from Pumas in a historic 3-0 win to seal MLS’ first CCL title and send the Sounders to the FIFA Club World Cup. Vargas worked well in tandem with Albert Rusnák, who also had one of his best performances so far with his new club.
“Obed had to step in, but he’s done that before so we weren’t looking at him like he’s 16 years old,” said Rusnák. “He’s one of us, he’s part of the team. He did great tonight, but it’s not his first game today that he did really well.”
Vargas finished with an 82% passing completion rate and, like Rusnák mentioned, looked comfortable and poised well beyond his age. It would be difficult for any player to come in off the bench unexpectedly half an hour into a final in front of a CCL record crowd, let alone someone who would be a junior in high school, and the Sounders knew that.
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“I just said, ‘Let’s be positive with him and let’s ease him into the game,’” said Roldan. “It’s always tough losing João and I hope it’s not severe, but I thought the kid did all right and that’s why we have such a deep roster.”
The Sounders have a quick turnaround back to MLS play on Saturday when they head to Frisco, Texas, for a match against FC Dallas (5:30 p.m. PT; FOX 13+, Prime Video, 93.3 KJR FM, El Rey 1360 AM). With João Paulo’s injury diagnosis to be determined, the Sounders will likely need a lot from Vargas moving forward this season.
But Schmetzer, like he did on Wednesday night, has no problem turning to his teenager to be an integral part in midfield.
“We have complete faith in the kid,” said Schmetzer.