OWhen it comes to the UNAM Pumas, the only certainty is uncertainty. In that sense, Wednesday night’s first leg of the Concacaf Champions League Final lived up to its bill in a match filled with surprises, twists and drama filled with VAR. By the time the final whistle sounded, the Pumas had blown a two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw that looked like a defeat for a side that left the Estadio Olímpico Universitario wondering what could have been. be. In contrast, Seattle heads home for the upbeat rematch after escaping what looked like a heavy loss.
Drama punctuated the match: four VAR reviews and the same number of penalties, the last of which was scored in the ninth minute of extra time from Nicolás Lodeiro to give the Sounders a decisive draw.
Considering the game was played in front of a raucous crowd, Seattle’s comeback was no small feat. Seattle weather double the draw as “stunning”, while Mexico City’s Record, lamented that the Pumas “let the triumph slip away”. Another Mexican sports daily, Esto, posed the question: “Farewell to glory?
Tournament ‘glory’ and outperformance has long been an apt description for the Pumas, a club characterized by a low-budget wage bill and promising young players, as well as lackluster regular-season performances that are often associated with upsets. and jaw-dropping post-season comebacks. Last month, in the Concacaf Champions League quarter-finals, the Pumas came back from a 3-0 deficit against the New England Revolution to force a penalty shootout, that they have duly earned. The Pumas also returned from a four goal deficit in the semi-finals of Liga MX in December 2020, a unique achievement in the Mexican playoffs.
On Wednesday, however, it was the Pumas who were on the wrong end of a dramatic comeback. Match preview, former United States international said Herculez Gomez the Pumas “would rather be an outsider”. This was not the case against the Sounders, and the Pumas were leading 2-0 as the match entered the knockout stages. The Pumas looked uncomfortable in the driver’s seat and it was the Sounders who summoned the underdog’s spirit in front of a hostile crowd, who acted as a 12th man and helped give their team an early lead, as the rain poured down in Mexico City. Home fans threw beer and shouted expletives in unison at any significant call that went their way. In the 77th minute, the Sounders forced a handball and Lodeiro coolly converted the first of his two successful penalties of the night. He was the right man for the job: he converted 92% of his penalties during his career (compared to the conversion rates of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are respectively 77% and 83%).
The return was not a total surprise. Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer was upbeat after the game and proudly emphasized Seattle’s “never quit” culture. And his team has a history of comebacks to rival the Pumas: In the 2020 MLS Western Conference Finals, they overturned a 2-0 deficit to beat Minnesota United 3-2 in a match that Schmetzer double “one of the best [Sounders] games of all time.
Schmetzer hailed Lodeiro’s “mental toughness” as a counterexample to those who thought his side were intimidated by the atmosphere inside the Estadio Olímpico Universitario. And now it’s the Pumas who face a hostile crowd at Seattle’s Lumen Field, where the Sounders drew nearly 70,000 fans for big games. They will also be aware that they have an unimpressive record against MLS clubs north of the border (three wins, two draws and five losses).
The Pumas may enjoy reverting to their familiar status as underdogs and will be comforted by the fact that they have the tournament’s top scorer, Argentine Juan Ignacio Dinenno. He scored both of his side’s goals on Wednesday, including the only non-penalty goal of the night, a very impressive header from a perfect Jesus Rivas cross. Seattle also has a poor record against Liga MX teams (seven wins, three draws and nine losses) and is trying to become the first MLS team to win the tournament in two decades. However, they will have a slight mental advantage as hosts in the second leg, especially after their return to Mexico City.
Regardless of the result of the second leg, one of these teams will make their Club World Cup debut. The official Seattle Sounders Twitter page addressed the high stakes with the following statement: “CCL Final: It’s A Big F’ing Deal.”
It will certainly be the case and, inevitably, history will be written.