"It’s a big, massive opportunity": Seattle Sounders chase history vs. Pumas in CCL Final

Matches don't get much bigger than the two Seattle Sounders FC are about to play in their Concacaf Champions League Final series against Liga MX side Pumas UNAM, with Leg 1 set for Wednesday evening at Estadio Olímpico Universitario (10:30 pm ET | FS1, TUDN).

For the Sounders, far more is on the line than just another addition to the trophy case.

The CCL Final presents an opportunity to become the first-ever MLS team to win the modern incarnation of a tournament historically dominated by Mexican opposition. Accomplish that, and their names are forever etched in the history books as the league's first-ever continental champion, not to mention the ticket to the FIFA Club World Cup that goes to the winner.

"Yes, we all know the importance of this match, of this Final," midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro said through a translator before competing in Mexico City. "We are very happy with this opportunity, with this possibility and we feel lucky to have it. We'll play the Final and represent MLS, which is great. We'll give our best and we know we have to be concentrated all the time because after all, Pumas also wants to win. They also know the importance of this tournament. The point is that we know the importance, we are prepared and we're going to show it and give it tomorrow when we play the match."

Given the lofty stakes, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said his team is in a strong place mentally despite a pair of defeats in league play to Inter Miami CF and the San Jose Earthquakes that have preceded the series opener.

"The team's fine. I mean, look, are they anxious for the game to come? Yes," Schmetzer said. "I think they want to play, maybe anxious is the wrong word. I think they're excited for the game to finally come. I think they've been thinking about this game since the draw at NYCFC that put us through."

It's a similar perspective from midfielder Albert Rusnak, who joined in the offseason via free agency from Real Salt Lake. He's one of their three DPs alongside Lodeiro and striker Raul Ruidiaz.

"Everyone’s aware of the situation and how big this opportunity is," Rusnak said. "It doesn’t come around too often and it’s another final. That’s what we play for as players, so we have to clear our minds about the last couple of weeks and especially the last game. This is a different competition, a competition we’ve been solid in so far. That’s the goal, that’s what ultimately will win us the championship."

Before reaching this point, Seattle downed another Mexican team – Club Leon – in the CCL quarterfinals. They also navigated past Honduras' Motagua in the Round of 16, making this veteran-heavy team no stranger to what's required in hostile environments.

But the away leg is only half the battle, with Leg 2 set for May 4 back at Lumen Field before what could be a CCL-record crowd for an MLS team. In the 2015 Final home tie, 61,004 fans attended the CF Montréal vs. Club America match at Stade Olympique.

"It’s a great feeling for now, but if you don’t win it that’s a wasted opportunity I would say," Rusnak said. "The job isn’t done yet and it won’t be done after the Wednesday, but we’ll see where we stand in terms of hosting the second leg."

With MLS teams falling four previous times at this juncture – Real Salt Lake in 2011, Montréal in 2015, Toronto FC in 2018 and LAFC in 2020 – the national narrative isn't lost on Seattle. But it also only motivates the two-time MLS Cup champions, who expect to reach games like this.

"We want to be the first one to capture a CCL title," Schmetzer said. "It’s a big, massive opportunity for the club, for the players that put the hard work in every day. It’s a big deal."