Later tonight, a record-breaking crowd of more than 67,000 spectators pack the stands at Lumen Field will yell their full-throated support for Seattle Sounders as they set out to beat Pumas UNAM in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Finals and try to become the first MLS club to win the tournament. Good for them.
New York City FC’s players will be watching the game at their homes, sipping mint tea and resting for Saturday’s game against Sporting Kansas City, and that’s OK. Seattle might be 90 minutes away from glory, but they sacrificed their MLS season to get there: A team that hope to write themselves into Champions League history are also adrift at the bottom of the league table with just two wins out of seven games played, and a negative goal differential.
It's not just that Sounders are losing, it’s how they lose—and who are beating them. Since Seattle knocked New York City FC out of the tournament, the Sounders were embarrassed by Inter Miami FC, then by San Jose Earthquakes, two of the most inept teams in MLS. In that same period, NYCFC wenton a tear by winning three in a row, scoring 14 goals and logging two clean sheets. The Champions League hangover is real, and you can get over it: Since getting knocked out of the tournament New York City went from one of the most listless teams in MLS to the most lethal, with an attack that rips apart opposing defenses with the ruthless efficiency of a buzzsaw.
You can pinpoint when that transformation took place: It happened precisely at the start of the second half of the Champions League Semifinal leg that NYCFC could have won, and maybe should have won, but didn't win. When New York City retook the field after the halftime break they were a different team, and they have maintained that scintillating form ever since.
NYCFC aren’t just good in MLS, they’re very, very good—arguably, they’re the best. And Seattle aren’t just not-good, they’re kinda boring.
Here's how MLS looks a quarter of the way through the season. pic.twitter.com/LHBKxGzWnD— John Muller (@johnspacemuller) May 3, 2022
That raises the question: Would you have NYCFC trade places with Seattle, and log shameful, degrading losses to the most incompetent teams in MLS in exchange for Champions League glory? Would you let Real Salt Lake steamroll NYCFC, then let San Jose Earthquakes snatch a late winner, if it meant playing Pumas on national TV?
Clearly, you can't have both. These past three weeks have given us an unscientific control experiment, a compare-and-contrast between two talented teams whose trajectories have taken opposing directions. One might lift the Champions League trophy, the other are dominating MLS.
If I had to choose, I would rather that NYCFC...
This poll is closed
...continue to dominate MLS, and be the best and most entertaining team in the league, even if it means Seattle win a title tonight
...had advanced to the Champions League Finals and play for silverware, even if it meant losing 0-6 to Real Salt Lake and getting beaten by Toronto FC at Citi Field (again)
The unanswered question: When does the Champions League hangover end? Will Seattle regain their MLS form this weekend, the same way that NYCFC snapped out of it in an instant? Or will the hangover linger, and Seattle continue to struggle for weeks—or maybe even the whole season? Time will tell.
An important point—you should watch the match tonight no matter how you feel about Seattle. We argued in these pages last week that it’s the duty of all New York City FC supporters to turn on Fox Sports or TUDN and check the action: Rising ratings will lift all boats, and let the world know that soccer matters in the United States.
Turn on, tune in.
To be honest, it looks like it’ll be a zinger of a game.