Sounders top NYCFC 3-1 in 1st leg of Champions League semis

SEATTLE (AP) — Albert Rusnák and Jordan Morris scored in the first half, Nicolás Lodeiro converted a penalty kick midway through the second half, and the Seattle Sounders beat New York City FC 3-1 on Wednesday night in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals.

The two-game, aggregate-goal series saw the Sounders take a comfortable advantage, but Seattle also allowed a key road goal to NYCFC’s Thiago Andrade in the first half that could serve as a tiebreaker in next week’s second leg played at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.

“I think there wasn’t a player that didn’t have a great performance. And that’s what it takes in these kinds of games,” Rusnák said. “We played against a good team and we managed to win by two goals. So we’re halfway there.”

Rusnák’s goal came in the 16th minute and was his first since signing with Seattle in the offseason. Morris made it 2-1 later in the first half and Lodeiro’s penalty kick in the 68th minute came after a video review that showed Raúl Ruidíaz being fouled in the penalty area by Thiago Martins.

“They are deadly when they get opportunities like that,” NYCFC coach Ronny Delia said. “But we got our away goal and that was important.”

The matchup between Seattle and NYCFC, the reigning MLS Cup champions, is the first time two MLS teams have faced off in the semifinals of the Champions League. The winner will meet either Pumas or Cruz Azul from LigaMX in the two-game, home-and-home final. Pumas holds a 2-1 lead after the first leg played Tuesday night in Mexico City.

Four MLS teams have previously reached the Champions League final since the current format was adopted in 2008 — Real Salt Lake (2011), CF Montreal (2015), Toronto FC (2018) and LAFC (2020) — but none have come away with the title. Seattle will have the advantage at joining that foursome of MLS teams headed into next week’s second-leg.

“They got an away goal, so that helps them a little bit in the chess match,” Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said. “But we’re not going to be afraid to go back to Red Bull Arena and try and win.”

The Sounders have vocalized for years their desire to be the first MLS team to win the Champions League and their impressive performances in the knockout stage this season have reinforced that belief. Seattle has outscored its opponents 12-2 through five CCL games this season.

Rusnák’s first goal for Seattle was set up by the combo of Cristian Roldan and Morris. Roldan also assisted on Morris’ goal in the 35th minute, drawing the pass from the end line back to the penalty spot where Morris finished into the upper corner past NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Despite Seattle’s convincing victory, Andrade’s goal was important for NYCFC as a 2-0 win in the second-leg would send the MLS champs through due to the road goals tiebreaker. It was NYCFC’s first semifinal match in the Champions League having never advanced past the quarterfinals previously.

NYCFC also played without standout midfielder Maxi Moralez due to a rib injury.

“We’re coming home. We need to win 2-0. We’ve done that many times before,” Delia said.

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