It took 22 years, but an MLS club has finally been crowned champions of Concacaf, and it just had to be the Seattle Sounders.
Arguably no team has done more to define the modern era of this league to drag it closer to Liga MX kicking and screaming. Two MLS Cups, one Supporters' Shield, four US Open Cups, and, now, one Concacaf Champions League since the club's 2009 debut.
On Wednesday, in front of a competition record crowd of 68,741, Seattle beat Pumas 3-0 (5-2 on aggregate) to book a place at the Fifa Club World Cup. They made history for themselves and Major League Soccer. And according to president Garth Lagerway...
“Immortality. Immortality,” he declared to the Extratime podcast. “You get into sports for stuff that people can never take away. This will be written down, it'll be there forever. Hopefully, it's the first of many. We talked about a couple of days ago, we stacked semi-finals as a league, then we stacked finalists. Now we broke through.
“This is such an exciting time for American soccer. We’ve got the most talented generation going to the World Cup, and we are now pushing through – we got the best Sounders team of all time and MLS as a league, we’re getting ready to take on Liga MX in a big way, Leagues Cup coming up. It's so fun.”
If the Sounders are collectively immortal, Nico Lodeiro must be close to achieving demi-god status. The Uruguayan is in his eighth year at the club, inspiring both their MLS Cup wins and lifting himself to fourth on Seattle's all-time scoring charts.
For the Sounders to win CCL, it was going to take something special from Lodeiro. Of the five goals they scored across the two legs of the final against Pumas, three of them were via the boot of Lodeiro with two penalties in the away comeback draw and the final strike on Wednesday to put the icing on the cake and start the party in the stands.
“Nico Lodeiro, man, is the greatest Sounder of all time," Lagerway said of Lodeiro. “Set in stone. Hands down.”
Head coach Brian Schmetzer, who has been with Lodeiro every step of the way at this club, added: “He’s going to be up there for sure. In the NFL they have the franchise players. I call Nico a franchise player.”
Schmetzer has an unassuming appearance and a calm manner, but he is a head coach never to be underestimated. It's his tactical acumen, adaptability and unmatched man-management skills that have driven the Sounders to so much success. But for a man usually so prepared and calculated, Wednesday's success caught him out, bringing him close to tears and almost lost for words.
“Right now I'm living in the moment and I'm just so proud of that group of players – all of them," he said. "Because it's not just the guys that scored the goals tonight, and it's not just Yeimar [Gomez] and Stef [Frei] and all of those guys. It’s all the young kids that are coming up, the academy guys … just super, super proud of the way the team performed throughout this tournament. There's some adversity, it’s not an easy tournament to win.”
"We don't want to be up here by ourselves"
This was a night a long time in the making not just for the Sounders, but for Major League Soccer.
The heartbreak of final defeats for Real Salt Lake, Montreal Impact, Toronto FC and LAFC still burns. For MLS to truly compete with Liga MX, this needs to be the start of something special, not just a one-off moment in the sun.
But the entire league has been building this platform together and the Sounders are not content to stand alone; they're ready to welcome others alongside them.
"It’s something that can hopefully be followed, and we can make the league better, because that’s what we all want," said Lagerway.
He added: “Look, we're a good team. We spent a long time building this thing. But there's a lot of good teams in this league. New York City’s a great team, LAFC is coming out of the gates, great team, New England had 73 points last year. So there's a bunch of good teams and that's the whole thing is, we're level now with the top Mexican clubs. 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."
As Lagerway puts it: "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, man. We don't want to be up here by ourselves.”