On a plush, soggy grass pitch at the Estadio Olimpico de Universitario, Nico Lodeiro performed what he does best. The Sounders captain netted a penalty in second-half stoppage time to level Pumas UNAM for a 2-2 draw in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final in Mexico City on Wednesday.
The series moves to Lumen Field on May 4 where more than 50,000 people are expected to witness the story. Neither Pumas nor Seattle have won a CCL title. But Pumas would be on a line of 13 CCL wins in a row for Liga MX clubs. No MLS team has won this iteration of the regional tournament and the Sounders are yet to win an international trophy.
“It might take me until we’re halfway there to really figure out what happened in the game,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “It was certainly an interesting game.”
Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan was hit by a defender in the corner of the penalty area during second-half stoppage time, but referee Ivan Arcides Barton Cisneros saw no foul . Roldan screamed and writhed in pain loudly and dramatically enough for VAR to spot him, calling Cisneros to review the play.
Once the call was made, Lodeiro knew what to do.
“I have to have peace of mind and trust that I’m going to be able to deliver,” Lodeiro said of his approach. “That’s what the team expects and that’s what we prepare for all the time. Having that confidence that we’re going to be able to execute well is what helps us when we’re playing and taking shots on goal.
Pumas striker Juan Dinenno was the player who put on an early show in front of an electric 45,000 people in attendance. The Argentina striker challenged Sounders defender Yeimar Gomez Andrade on a cross, winning the ball to head past goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
The goal in the 48and minute gave the Pumas a 2-0 lead.
“The second-half goal was something we knew was their strength,” Schmetzer said. “So it was a bit disappointing for us to lose 2-0. But what I always appreciate about our team is that they never give up. We never stop trying.
The effort was evident in Seattle being able to work the Pumas into costly offenses. The first goal was on a penalty from Lodeiro in the 77and minute. Raul Ruidiaz worked his defender into a handball in the box to concede the penalty.
Seattle leads the tournament in team goals with 15. On a Wednesday, however, in-game attempts were either off-target or weak shots, with Pumas goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera seemingly showing his frustration at conceding the penalties by getting putting in the face of Lodeiro after the second score.
Talavera and Frei had two saves each in the game.
“That’s what happens when you play a final,” Lodeiro said of scrums. “They defend their shirt and their team. Once it’s over, it’s over and nothing happened.
Dinenno was doubtful to play due to a muscle injury. Schmetzer said before the match that his team was preparing for all scenarios, including for Dinenno to play. Wednesday’s brace gives the striker nine goals to lead the tournament.
Yeimar and centre-back Xavier Arreaga pressed Dinenno on a play into the box that appeared to be accidental contact in the 35and minute Cisneros showed Yeimar a yellow card, however, awarding a penalty to Pumas.
Frei was in position to make the save. But review of play showed Frei was off his line before the attempt. With a second chance, Dinenno converted the right-footed shot for a 1-0 lead in the 38and minute.
Seattle created several chances for their own goal in the first half. The boldest was a free kick in the 43rd minute. Lodeiro was close enough to fire an attempt at Talavera which the Pumas keeper deflected.
In first-half stoppage time, Sounders midfielder Albert Rusnak played a cross to Ruidiaz, which the striker headed towards a waiting Joao Paulo in the box. But the Brazilian’s close-range attempt sailed over the crossbar, sending the Sounders 1-0 up at half-time.
The Pumas replaced defender Alan Mozo in first-half stoppage time with an apparent leg injury after colliding with Arreaga. The club were already without defender Arturo Ortiz through a one-game suspension.
Still, the team showed quality depth along the baseline to contain the Sounders in the run of play.
Yeimar started for the first time in seven matches with a sprained ankle. His availability in the opening lineup was the first time Schmetzer had all of his first-choice starters.
The Pumas won an opening free-kick just outside the box to start testing Seattle’s defense, but the first scoring threat came in the 21st minute. Frei easily collected Efrain Velarde’s header from inside the box. At 26and minute, Frei was able to stretch his right arm enough to deflect Rogerio’s shot.
Away goals do not count as a tiebreaker for the CCL Final as they did in the previous three rounds. If, after settlement of the second leg at Lumen, the teams are equal in total points, there will be two 15-minute periods. If still level, the winner will be determined by penalty shootout.
“I don’t think we were at our best,” Schmetzer said of Wednesday’s game. “It was a tough game. The team surrounding their captain at the end was a positive for me because I know what was going on, what they were trying to do to Nico and we had to stay calm. … we have to just keep calm and play the game.”