The Seattle Sounders may not have hit the ground running in MLS this season – sitting 11th in the Western Conference, albeit with a game in hand over most of the teams above them – but on Wednesday night they set up two of the biggest matches in the club's history.
A 1-1 draw with New York City FC at the Red Bull Arena sent the Sounders through to the CONCACAF Champions League final with a 4-2 aggregate win, as Brian Schmetzer's side look to become the first North American team to win the competition since before the club was even founded.
MLS sides have been getting closer to triumph in recent years, with LAFC reaching the final in 2020 only to lose to UANL over two legs, but this year's final will be the Sounders' first – and could be a huge moment for the global perception of MLS.
Stefan Frei's outstanding contribution in Wednesday's second leg, making seven saves as NYCFC peppered his goal with shots, was arguably the highlight of the tie. He described Seattle's opponents as 'throwing the bathtub' as they racked up enough quality chances for 3.31xG on the night, but kept them to just the one Santiago Rodriguez strike with some acrobatic stops.
The Sounders also conceded the possession battle as they rode an early Raul Ruidiaz strike to the final, but they may find life tougher against a UNAM side who already put out the New England Revolution at the quarter-final stage on penalty kicks.
UNAM's inferior record in the prior rounds (three wins, two draws and a defeat vs three wins and three draws) means that Seattle will host the second leg of the final, giving the Sounders the advantage of the Lumen Field crowd roaring them on for the final match of 2022's Champions League.
While the club's list of achievements is astonishing, from their three successive US Open Cups from 2009-2011 to their 100% record of making the MLS playoffs, winning the US' first CONCACAF Champions League and first continental competition since the LA Galaxy's Champions Cup triumph in 2000 might be their most impressive yet.
Of the 13 previous Champions League finals, nine have been all-Mexican affairs; with the other four all also won by Mexican teams. However, UNAM are enduring the same kind of early-season domestic struggles as the Sounders, sitting in the bottom half of the Liga MX table with just four wins from their opening 13 games.
That form should give the Sounders some hope of securing at least a goalscoring draw at the Estadio Olímpico Universitario in two weeks' time, which would put them in the driving seat coming back to the Pacific Northwest the following week.