Liga MX awaits: MLS heavyweights Seattle Sounders & NYCFC meet in CCL semifinals

Two of the most successful clubs in MLS's modern era can move closer to Concacaf Champions League immortality Wednesday night when Seattle Sounders FC and New York City FC begin their semifinal series with a Leg One bout at Lumen Field (10 pm ET | FS1, TUDN).

The all-MLS matchup pits two-time MLS Cup champions Seattle (2016, 2019) against the reigning league champions in NYCFC (2021). While both teams have weathered some uneven form to start their league seasons while juggling CCL obligations, they're MLS's last two teams standing after New England and Montréal bowed out in the quarterfinals.

After Leg 2 next Wednesday at Red Bull Arena, the winner will represent MLS in the CCL Final against either Cruz Azul or Pumas UNAM, setting up a Liga MX showdown later this spring.

"Look, I've been trying to fight a narrative that we were not good in our league form and [only] good in our Champions League form here in Seattle earlier this year, so I don't buy into the fact that NYC is struggling to score goals," Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said ahead of their first meeting with NYCFC since 2019. "They've got too many talented players. It's going to be a challenge for sure. But we're confident. We're confident we've prepared well.

"We've watched a lot of film on NYCFC because they're not an opponent that we play often. So, we'll have to make sure that the stuff that the players see and hear translates into actionable items on the field."

NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila also expressed confidence in his team's ability to right the ship and get a positive result, despite entering the series after consecutive defeats in MLS play against the Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC. In this year's previous CCL series, they beat Costa Rica's Santos de Guápiles and Guatemala's Comunicaciones.

"I'm not concerned about anything," Deila said. "We are very confident in the team, we have played so many times on artificial [turf] and I think we've had good performances every time we've been in that [situation]. In New England we've played 3-4 times and done well. I think we like to play [on] artificial, it's a good thing for us.

"At the same time, it's a game of 180 minutes and also it's their strength to play at home. So I think for us we have to defend well of course tomorrow, that we can get the best result as possible to play at home in New York."

Both clubs possess plenty of big-game experience, from the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and previous forays into CCL. That especially applies to Seattle's veteran-laden group, which knocked off Honduras' Motagua and Mexico's Club Leon in previous stages of this year's regional club competition.

"If you go back a few years to when we had two-legged playoff series in MLS, there were certain tactics and things you thought about differently than a one-game knockout playoff-type situation," Schmetzer said. "So whether it's an international competition versus an MLS club or whether it's a Mexican club or Honduran club, it doesn't really matter, it's still a two-legged series. So there are some nuances there that we have experience in, and I think that will certainly help us."

For NYCFC, it's a chance to flip the script as brutal travel demands amid a hectic early-season schedule have produced just four points from their first five MLS matches.

Cityzens midfielder Santiago Rodriguez feels that form isn't representative of their quality, having returned almost all key faces from last season's championship-winning core.

"We don't feel like we need to prove ourselves," the 22-year-old Uruguayan said through a translator. "Obviously we know that we're a very good team, we have the same team as last year. Obviously we're going through a little bit of a cold streak, but that's normal, every team goes through that at certain points throughout the season.

"But we're in the semifinals of the Champions League and that happens for a reason. We just want to focus on improving and getting better each week, each game. We know that the good results will come and we don't feel like we need to prove ourselves. We just need to go out there and play our game and we'll let the results speak for itself."

Whoever emerges from this semifinal series will look to become MLS's first-ever winner of the CCL's current iteration. LAFC (2020), Toronto (2018), Montréal (2015) and Real Salt Lake (2011) have made finals in years past only to fall to Mexican teams, leaving Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan keenly aware of the magnitude of this clash.

"Within the group, this is one of our most-decorated games, one of the biggest games of our careers," the US international said. "That’s the way I look at it personally, just because no one in MLS history has ever won the tournament. So I take it pretty heavy and I want to be the first to win it. Hopefully we can do that and those are our expectations for the game."