Mexico City (AFP) – The Seattle Sounders are eyeing an end to more than two decades of futility on Wednesday when they take on Mexico’s Pumas UNAM in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final.
The Sounders are bidding to become the first Major League Soccer side to be crowned continental champions since Los Angeles Galaxy lifted the title in 2000.
No MLS side has won the tournament since it was remodelled in 2008 as the CONCACAF Champions League, along the lines of the UEFA Champions League.
Since the Galaxy’s victory 22 years ago, the top competition for teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean has been treated as the near-exclusive fiefdom for teams from Mexico.
Pumas would become the 17th straight Mexican side to lift the title if they thwart Seattle’s ambitions this year.
Despite that record of Mexican dominance, the Sounders start this year’s final as favourites in the eyes of many.
Seattle have already accounted for one Mexican club in their journey to the final, beating Leon 4-1 on aggregate in the quarter-finals before vanquishing New York City in the last four.
The Sounders also have the advantage of playing the May 4 second leg at home, where they have a 100% record in this year’s tournament.
“I think it’s an incredible, historic opportunity,” Seattle general manager Garth Lagerwey told the club’s website.
“I know I’ve been perhaps hyperbolic in some of my public speaking about it but everything I say is sincere. This is for immortality.”
Lagerwey says a Seattle victory would be the “biggest achievement in club history, period.”
“It’s certainly the hardest tournament to win, if you think about what you have to achieve just to qualify for the tournament and then the process you have to go through playing games both home and away, just a massive amount of travel, starting early in the season, just all the difficulties, there can be no greater degree of difficulty then winning this tournament,” he said.
– Lessons to learn –
Seattle’s title ambitions received a reality check on the domestic front last weekend however when they were stunned 4-3 by the San Jose Earthquakes in California.
The Sounders squandered leads of 2-0 and 3-1 as San Jose forward Cristian Espinoza scored a hat-trick to engineer victory.
Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer said a “little complacency” had crept into his players as they looked ahead to Wednesday’s final.
“We just need to be hard to beat, a little bit harder defensively in certain moments of the game, a little bit more steely,” Schmetzer said, adding that he believed the San Jose loss was a “one-off.”
Schmetzer has also been encouraged by the fact that his squad recognised what went wrong against San Jose during video analysis.
“Any time in life where you can have good conversations about things that happened in the past are good conversations,” Schmetzer.
“I credit the senior guys on the team. They all get it. It’s always best if it comes from within the team. It’s a really resilient, smart group.”
Seattle’s Cristian Roldan believes a repeat of the lapses against San Jose in Wednesday’s final at Mexico City’s Estadio Olimpico Universitario could be fatal.
“We have to learn from these moments, keep the positive because going into Wednesday, it’s not going to be easy,” Roldan said.
“These moments in a final will put you down bad.”
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