Concacaf Champions League: Seattle Sounders in strong position to make MLS history after first-leg comeback

In a torrential downpour in Mexico, it looked like another MLS horror story in the Concacaf Champions League was being written Wednesday night. But after going behind by two goals vs. Pumas UNAM in the first half, the Seattle Sounders were able to fight back to bring things level at 2-2 in the first leg of the CCL final against the Liga MX side. Braces from Juan Dinenno and Nicolas Lodeiro paced their teams in a match that saw three penalties awarded.

As the second leg will be in Seattle, the Sounders will feel good about coming out of this level when it looked like everything was going Pumas UNAM’s way. The Sounders were able to overcome missed chances in Mexico and now get the weekend off to prepare for the second leg next Wednesday. In a final that spans two legs, the Sounders will have a great opportunity next week at home to become the first MLS team to ever win the competition since it was reformatted more than a decade ago.

Now for some takeaways from Wednesday’s first leg.

Was the penalty a correct call? 

The first spell of controversy hit only 34 minutes into the match as Pumas were awarded a penalty due to a foul by both center backs on Dinenno in the box. Due to the rain, it seemed like Dinenno was already going down before contact but the defender also got a touch on the ball first. While penalties can still be given after getting the ball first if contact warrants it, this didn’t seem to fall into that type of situation.

But that wasn’t all as Stefan Frei had a ball-don’t-lie moment, saving the penalty taken by Dinenno. But after a VAR review, Frei left his line early so the penalty was retaken. Dinenno wouldn’t miss his second bite of the apple and Pumas were ahead finally by the 38th minute, four minutes after the penalty was awarded.

Yeimar back into the starting lineup too soon?

The Sounders getting their first choice center back into the fold was supposed to be a boost, but Yeimar Gómez was beaten on Dienno’s second goal. Jesus Rivas, 19, was subbed on earlier in the match due to an injury to right back Alan Mozo. Mozo has been critical to the success of Pumas but even with only 27 minutes of Liga MX play, Rivas delivered when called on.

His cross found the head of Dinenno for a massive header, but Yeimar misjudged the flight of the ball. Since March 18, Yeimar has only played 28 minutes of competitive soccer as he was dealing with an ankle injury with Jackson Ragen starting each match but one. As Ragen performed well enough, there were reasons for him to start this game but luckily that goal didn’t end up resigning the Sounders to defeat.

Sounders show fight

When they went behind by two goals, the Sounders could have rolled over, but their experience showed through. They were able to draw two penalties with Lodeiro being strong enough from the spot to bury them. Not only that but they also kept their cool in a hostile environment when it seemed like key decisions were going against them. The Sounders had a few players who would’ve missed the second leg if they picked up a yellow card and were able to escape with everyone available for the home leg, which is a win by itself.

Outlook for the second leg

While the stats were similar despite the possession advantage to the Sounders, all eyes will be on the health of Mozo for Pumas. They expect their outside backs to get forward and cross the ball as much as possible and that’s something that Seattle had trouble with. If Mozo can’t go in the second leg, that will be a ton of pressure on the shoulders of Rivas in the second leg and he can expect to be targeted heavily by Jordan Morris. 

Due to the rain it is hard to read too heavily into this leg of things but that’s why it’s important that Seattle will return home with the tie level. The ball is officially in their court to make history, now all they have to do is hold serve.

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