Cristian Roldán earned a penalty late in injury time for Seattle Sounders to put them in a strong position to claim the CONCACAF Champions League title ahead of their home leg against UNAM Pumas in one week.
UNAM Pumas 2 – 2 Seattle Sounders
Current USMNT players Roldán and Jordan Morris both started in the attack for Seattle in the away leg of their final series the Mexican side, with the team coming back from a 2-0 deficit to put themselves in a decent position to claim their first-ever continental championship.
Morris was subbed out of the game after 87 minutes, having completed 18 of his 22 passing attempts, while attempting one off-target header and setting up teammate Nicolás Lodeiro for a 43rd-minute long-range attempt.
Roldán had a more direct effect on his team’s outcome, setting up Raúl Ruidíaz for an on-target attempt early in the second half, but more importantly drawing the 95th-minute penalty that was responsible for their equalizer.
On the Mexican side, former American youth international Sebastian Saucedo played the final 27 minutes for the hosts, committing the hand-ball in the area late in the game that began Seattle’s comeback.
United States U-20 midfield prospect Obed Vargas was an unused substitute for Seattle, while California-born Jorge Ruvalcaba also didn’t make it off of the UNAM bench.
The game was dominated by penalties and VAR-driven drama, with three of the four goals coming from the spot, although the first one by the hosts was given a controversial – and ultimately successful – retake much to the chagrin of the visitors.
The scoring got underway shortly past the half-hour mark, when Seattle defender Xavier Arreaga tripped up Juan Dinenno as he worked into the area, albeit with a feather-tickle of contact upon replay. The referee took a few seconds to assess the scene in his head before pointing to to penalty spot.
This only began a long sequence of events that took several minutes to sort out. The call was confirmed by the VAR crew, and Sounders keeper Stefen Frei guessed right and deflected the ball over the crossbar, seeming to keep the teams on even terms.
However, another VAR review showed that Frei left his line just a moment early, giving Dinenno a do-over, which he successfully struck to the right side, with the keeper diving the other way.
Ten minutes later, the hosts scored the only goal from open play in the game in stylish form. Jesús Rivas advanced up the right flank and launched a long cross into the box. Dinenno rose above several defenders, powerfully heading the ball to the right side, giving Frei no chance to even attempt the save.
Seattle persisted and began turning the game around at the 73rd-minute mark following a corner, thanks to a gift from the Saucedo, ten minutes after he entered the game.
Awkwardly lunging out towards an attempted cross from the right by Raul Ruidiaz, Saucedo left his right arm positioned high, and it clearly deflected the ball, giving the referee no choice but to point to the spot.
Despite the crystal-clear handball, the VAR crew still opted to review, perhaps looking for a foul on the build-up. However, the call stood, and Lodeiro fired his shot off the fingertips of Alfredo Talavera on the right side to bring Seattle back to 2-1.
Saucedo tried to atone for his error with what would have been a spectacular looping strike from outside the area in the 92nd minute, but missed a couple yards high over the crossbar.
Finally, in the fifth minute of added time, another gift from the hosts and the VAR crew allowed Seattle to equalize. Roldán theatrically went down on the right edge of the area near the touchline after a high kick from defender Efraín Velarde struck the inside of his thigh.
While none of the players on either team, apart from Roldán himself, thought much of the challenge, a VAR review was still called, and referee opted to award the spot kick.
After several minutes of arguments and attempted mind games by the enraged hosts, Lodeiro cooly struck his shot to the upper right corner, this time well beyond Talavera’s grasp, for the 99th-minute equalizer.
The Sounders will host the return leg in one week, on Thursday May 5 in Seattle’s Lumen field. With CONCACAF having ditched the away goals rule for the home-and-away final round starting this season, all is on even terms for the two teams in the critical second leg.
UNAM are aiming for their third continental championship, although their first since the 1980s, while Seattle are looking for their first-ever top finish in the region, which would be the first for MLS since 2000.