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Sounders secure place in CCL final after holding off NYCFC

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Led by several stunning saves from Stefan Frei, and another goal from Raul Ruidiaz, the Seattle Sounders secured their place in the Concacaf Champions League by holding off an admirable charge from reigning MLS Cup champion New York City FC.

The Sounders became the fifth MLS team to earn a place in the CCL Final after Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with NYCFC at Red Bull Arena, a result that combined with Seattle’s 3-1 first-leg victory to secure a final matchup with UNAM Pumas, which secured its own spot in the final with a semifinal series win over Cruz Azul.

Ruidiaz gave the Sounders a cushion midway through the first half, scoring with one touch off a cross from Nouhou. The goal finished off an eight-pass sequence from the Sounders.

Frei fended off a furious NYCFC attack in the second half. Valentin Castellanos squared the ball to Talles Magno in the 73rd minute, but Frei stopped Magno from finishing.

Frei, who finished with seven saves, also saved a close-range shot from Castellanos in the 88th minute. NYCFC pushed hard for a goal in the second half, amassing 25 shots and eight shots on target.

NYCFC started the second half off as it did the first, attacking relentlessly. That momentum paid off in the 51st minute, when Santiago Rodriguez finished off a cutback pass from Thiago Andrade. That cut the deficit to two goals on aggregate.

The Sounders threatened, too. Jordan Morris had a close-range shot in the 59th minute, which was cleared off the goal line by Thiago Martins.

VAR controversy held over from the first leg, in which a leg penalty handed the Sounders a third goal. This time, NYCFC begged for a penalty in the 80th minute after a potential Sounders handball in the box, but a VAR review showed there was no handball.

The first half set a chippy, physical tone, with Cristian Roldan and Castellanos clashing in the very first minute. Castellanos was shown a yellow card for the dust-up. Another scuffle broke out in front of the Sounders goal after a Frei save in the first 12 minutes.

The Sounders soaked up pressure from NYCFC early on. NYCFC had two shots and the majority of possession in the opening 20 minutes of the game. Castellanos missed a clear-cut chance, failing to direct a shot on goal immediately after NYCFC capitalized on a Sounders giveaway. Ruidiaz’ goal put a damper on NYCFC’s attacking momentum.

NYCFC was hampered by the absences of central midfielder Maxi Moralez and defender Maxime Chanot. The Sounders were able to deploy a first-choice lineup. Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer opted for 23-year-old Jackson Ragen to start at centerback, where Ragen stood strong by completing 80 percent of his passes.

The Sounders are the fifth team to make the CCL final, and the first since Los Angeles FC in 2020. An MLS team has never won the Concacaf Champions League, and the Sounders will vie to become the first MLS team to be crowned North American champions since the LA Galaxy won the Concacaf Champions Cup in 2000.

The Sounders have had a memorable run in CCL, so far, but two dates with UNAM Pumas on April 26 and May 3 give them the chance to make history.

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