Pumas aim to extend Liga MX dominance in CCL

Pumas midfielder Higor Meritao (right) will chase Cristián Roldán (left) and any Sounders opponent that should happen to cross his path tonight. (Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images)
Pumas midfielder Higor Meritao (right) will chase Cristián Roldán (left) and any Sounders opponent that should happen to cross his path tonight. (Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images) /
Pumas Seattle second leg
Pumas defender José Galindo (left) will have his hands full marking Seattle’s Raúl Ruidíaz, seen here battling each other in the first leg of the CCL final. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images) /

A wounded Pumas team takes on the Sounders at Seattle’s Lumen Field searching for the franchise’s fifth international title.

The 2022 Concacaf Champions League trophy is at stake in the Pacific Northwest, with the proud Liga MX team and the MLS behemoth all tied at 2 apiece following last Wednesday’s first-leg match in Mexico’s capital.

UNAM arrives with a huge question mark at right back as Alan Mozo has not recovered from the nasty knee sprain he suffered when Seattle hardman Joao Polo crashed into the Pumas defender’s left leg.

The 25-year-old Mozo is UNAM’s Energizer Bunny. When the Mexico City native is rampaging up and down the right flank, the Pumas are hard to beat and Mozo had been enjoying such moments with greater frequency since last season’s Liga MX playoffs.

Pumas coming off big win

UNAM should have some momentum heading into the CCL Final after bouncing back from the disastrous ending to the first leg at the CU when the Liga MX club conceded two late penalties to allow the visiting Sounders to equalize 2-2 in minute 90+9. (That’s right. The spot kick was converted nearly 10 minutes into stoppage time after VAR alerted the ref to Efraín Velarde’s rash foul in the corner of the penalty box.)

The Pumas needed a win at home against league-leading Pachuca to secure an invitation to the Liga MX playoffs, but coach Andrés Lillini was keen on resting his overworked stars ahead of tonight’s return match against Seattle.

The strategy worked. The youngsters who started stood up to the first-place Tuzos. Then, just after the hour, ace striker Juan Ignacio Dinenno was sent on and quickly collected a brace, leading “Los Felinos” to a 2-0 win and a wildcard berth.

Before the Liga MX playoffs begin next weekend, “Los Auriazules” will try to collect some hardware. A win in Seattle would be UNAM fourth Concacaf trophy as the Pumas have won the Concacaf Cup three times (1980, 1982 and 1989). The Concacaf Cup was the predecessor to the current Concacaf Champions League tournament which was established in 2008.

No MLS team has won the CCL in its current format and Liga MX teams have won 16 consecutive Concacaf tournaments.

Defense will be the key

With Dinenno in fine form (the Argentine poacher leads the CCL in scoring with 9 goals, 5 more than anybody else. Seattle’s Nicolás Lodeiro who scored both Sounders penalties in the first leg is tied for second with NYCFC’s Valentín Castellanos) and Brazilians Rogerio and Diogo ready to assist up front, coach Lillini will be worried about his defense.

Center back Sebastián Freire was held out entirely of the Pachuca game (fatigue, soreness) but is expected to be at 100% on Wednesday, while his defense partner, Arturo Ortiz, has a niggling concern after limping off Sunday with a groin strain.

At left back, Velarde has experienced a dip in form and – without Mozo – Lillini will rely on inexperienced back-ups (either José Galindo or Jesús Rivas) so veteran goalie Alfredo Talavera might have to deal with an extra supply of crosses and centering passes.

Seattle has not played since last Wednesday’s match in Mexico City and they’ve reported no fitness issues so coach Brian Schmetzer should have his entire roster at his disposal.

Rayados de Monterrey scouting the Final

El Universal Deportes reported on Wednesday that Monterrey scouts will be watching the Seattle-Pumas match.

The Rayados are already compiling their summer transfer wish list and center forward is a top priority. Long-time striker Rogelio Funes Mori is in a funk, dealing with injury and waning confidence, while Vincent Janssen had been in a prolonged slump before scoring this past weekend.

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The report suggests that Monterrey is targeting Sounders forward Raúl Ruidiaz. The former Morelia Monarcas star is a legend in Seattle. Pumas scoring machine Dinenno is second on the Rayados’ hit list.