New manager Ariel Holan hasn’t needed much time to make an impact with Club León.
The result represents a significant moment for León. After being unable to find success outside of domestic competitions – which includes knockout round losses in the Concacaf Champions League to LAFC in 2020 and Toronto FC in 2021 – they’ve now finally clinched their first-ever international trophy.
“The team has made a great effort,” said a quietly content Holan during his post-game press conference. “We got a historic achievement for the club.”
Reaching that important moment wasn’t a simple task on Wednesday. Following a fairly even start to the match, the Sounders found the back of the net first. Head coach Brian Schmetzer had his players hit the ground running after halftime, and by the 48th minute, it was Cristian Roldan who scored to put the MLS side up 1-0.
“Clearly, we couldn’t play our game, we were uncomfortable,” mentioned Holan about the start to the second half. “Seattle is a great team and they pressured us very well and they were closing our paths.”
Holan immediately responded by bringing in three substitutes (Jose David Ramirez, Emmanuel Gigliotti and Elias Hernandez) in the 60th minute. It was a stroke of genius, and by the 61st, Hernandez provided an assist for Angel Mena’s equalizer for León.
From then on out, the rest of the match belonged to León as they continued to ramp up pressure through their substitutes, which also included a late cameo appearance from captain Luis Montes.
Mena – who featured on the Liga MX roster for the 2021 All-Star Game presented by Target – eventually scored Leon’s second goal of the match off a penalty kick in the 81st minute, and in the 85th he forced a mistake from Seattle’s backline that helped create León’s third through a close-range shot from Gigliotti.
That said, Seattle didn’t go down easy.
Nicolas Benezet narrowed the scoreline to 3-2 after scoring in the 92nd minute, and just moments later, Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz was incredibly close to making it 3-3 after his shot went just wide off the net.
It was ultimately a tight 3-2 victory for León, and in the press conference, Holan praised his squad for being able to hold off “a team as tough as Seattle that is one of the best teams in the league.”
“It’s a very important triumph,” he later added.
Although Holan’s tactical changes and substitutions were pivotal in the second half, the manager was quick to note that his players were the “heroes of the night.”
And through their efforts on the field, they’re now a part of León history as the first roster to claim an international trophy for the organization.
“For me, this is a dream,” said midfielder Santiago Colombatto after winning the Leagues Cup. “My dream was to be a champion with the club.”
Defender Stiven Barreiro, who was part of the León squad that earned Liga MX’s 2020 Apertura title, also appeared grateful for helping secure an international championship for his team.
“It’s a privilege that we couldn’t describe,” said Barreiro.
With news that the Leagues Cup is now expanding to a much bigger competition in 2023, Holan and his players will be able to look back and recognize their accomplishment in a tournament that will only continue to garner more attention and prestige in North America.