Next stop, CCL Final? Seattle Sounders & NYCFC vie for Liga MX opportunity

Seattle Sounders FC are one game away from reaching the 2022 Concacaf Champions League Final thanks to a 3-1 aggregate lead over New York City FC, but resting on their laurels Wednesday evening at Red Bull Arena isn't an option, especially with the road goals tiebreaker in effect (9 pm ET | FS1, TUDN).

Thanks to Thiago Andrade's first-half goal for NYCFC in Leg 1 of the semifinal series last week at Lumen Field, the Cityzens would advance outright with a 2-0 victory – far from an unthinkable scoreline for the defending MLS Cup champions.

"We're expecting them to play better, which only means we have to be also better than we were in the first leg. It's going to be a tough game, the scoreline 3-1 is very tricky," Sounders midfielder Albert Rusnák told reporters on Tuesday. "With the away goals still playing a big role in Concacaf, 3-1 is not as good a score as it looks on paper.

"So we're going there with the mindset that it's another game that we want to get a result. We're not going to be playing and counting goals as the game progresses and changing our style of play. From the first minute everybody has to be sharp and we have to be on our A-game in order to proceed to the final."

Whoever wins will face Liga MX's Pumas UNAM in the final after they drew Cruz Azul, 0-0, on Tuesday night to win their semifinal series 2-1 on aggregate. Argentine striker Juan Ignacio Dinenno had scored twice in Leg 1.

That result also ensures the CCL final, which will be conducted between late April and early May, will include Leg 2 at an MLS venue. NYCFC or Seattle, depending on who advances, will host that match. Leg 1 is set for Mexico City at Estadio Olímpico Universitario.

"It's about energy," said NYCFC coach Ronny Deila. "It's about belief, it’s about attacking the situation. And we have won many home games with more than two goals. And I really believe that we can do that tomorrow. It's about being organized. It's about being on our front foot, it's about belief and attack the situation and we know have a lot of quality."

Matters are complicated for NYCFC with two key contributors set to miss Wednesday's contest in playmaker Maxi Moralez (ribs) and defender Maxime Chanot (eye). While that leaves Deila without his attacking maestro and a starting-caliber center back, he's confident a comeback bid is attainable.

"I really see a different mindset," Deila said. "I see more energy in the eyes, I see more happiness on the pitch, off the pitch. And that's natural and we can talk as much as we want, but that's a fact. I believe and I really, really think that we have the quality to do it. But we, as I say, have to come out with that win-or-die almost mentality. We have to give everything, but at the same time what we were good at in the playoffs last year was to enjoy the moment and attack the situation. You know, you perform well and you lose, you can deal with it.

"We will do everything in our power to make tomorrow a great performance and then we have to see how good Seattle are in the day. But it is possible to win the two goals. I think if you go through our home games the last two years we have been over seven out of 10 times more than two goals, so we really believe we can do it."

Should Seattle maintain their advantage, it'd continue a run of four straight years of making a final. They won MLS Cup in 2019, then lost at that stage in 2020 to Columbus Crew and dropped 2021's Leagues Cup title bout to Liga MX's Club León.

The Rave Green aren't shy about their ambitions regionally, either, and defensive solidarity will prove vital Wednesday, with the game moved to the New York Red Bulls' home venue since NYCFC's Yankee Stadium isn't Concacaf-approved.

"How we line up, some of those little nuances, you guys will see tomorrow night," Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. "But we'll plan on defending well. That's a good team, so they'll be even better offensively. So we'll be up against it, but we're not afraid. We're just respectful and we'll try and do the best we can to keep them off the scoresheet."