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With 10 minutes left in the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League final on Wednesday night, a swift, flowing Seattle Sounders counter attack worked the ball from their own box to the opposition’s.
The football was incisive and clinical, the kind played by champions. As the game grew increasingly stretched, they took full advantage.
Darting down the right flank, winger Jordan Morris was played in behind the Pumas UNAM backline. He looked up and picked out Nicolas Lodeiro, whose first-time pass was perfectly weighted for striker Raul Ruidiaz, poised and ready.
Ruidiaz, who had already opened the scoring for Seattle just before half-time, made no mistake. He rolled the ball past the prostrate goalkeeper and into the bottom left corner.
Brian Schmetzer’s team were on the cusp of history. And Lodeiro’s late strike, to make it 3-0, sealed an unprecedented victory.
With the win over Mexican outfit Pumas, Seattle became the first US team to win the Concacaf Champions League since the competition’s 2008 rebrand. Before that, LA Galaxy were the last US-based continental champions, winning the old Champions Cup in 2000.
The Sounders will now take part in the Club World Cup, a competition no American side has ever been a part of.
For MLS, this is hugely significant. Seattle will be playing at the highest level, against the world’s best, on a global stage.
“We’re going to play against Real Madrid or Liverpool in a real game for a trophy,” Garth Lagerwey, Seattle’s general manager said. “I feel like a little kid. This is the stuff you dream of. I think we’re going to become a global club now.
“I’ve got to think my phone’s got to start ringing once some people see our fanbase, our building, it’s as good a soccer environment as anywhere in the world. It just is. This is a pretty special place.”
Seattle’s reputation will grow, inevitably, but so too will that of Major League Soccer. This will not be a mere pre-season friendly against a Premier League side looking to increase their revenue across the pond.
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Be it Liverpool or Real Madrid, this will be a competitive, high-profile match for Seattle, viewed by hundreds of thousands.
There were over 68,000 fans in attendance at Lumen Field to watch the 3-0 win, which sealed a 5-2 aggregate victory.
A few hours later, Real Madrid staged a miraculous comeback against Manchester City to reach the Champions League final, while Seattle’s supporters watched on, the excitement already setting in.
The hope, though, is that Seattle’s appearance in the Club World Cup is not a one-off.
“There’s a bunch of good teams and that’s the whole thing, we’re level now with the top Mexican clubs,” said Lagerwey. “The top MLS clubs I believe can compete on any given day with anybody in Mexico, and you just couldn’t say that five years ago.
“We are the symbol, we’re the tip of the spear, we pushed through, we finally did it, we vanquished the demons.
“But everybody’s welcome. We want a crowded mountaintop up here. We don’t want to be up here by ourselves.
“You get into sports for stuff people can never take away. This will be written down, it will be there forever. Hopefully it’s the first of many.”
While the focus is very much on the bigger picture, what this might mean for Seattle and for MLS, the mood for now is one of celebration.
Ruidiaz’s goals could be seismic in the grand narrative of US football, but most importantly, for Seattle, they sealed a title that had been a priority in recent years.
After success in MLS and domestic competition, there was a desire to surpass their historically superior Mexican opposition and win the Champions League.
That has been achieved, and the future now looks bright for Seattle.
“It’s an enormous happiness. We deserve this title,” said Lodeiro.
“This city, this club, this league, they all deserved a continental title, and we got it. We deserved it more than anyone.”
By Callum Rice-Coates
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