By Shawn Wheeler

Champions League.  Liga Campeones. 

For supporters around the world, these words bring forth great excitement.  It’s the pinnacle of club competition within each federation, and most supporters go their whole lives dreaming of seeing their club play in these competitions.  In Seattle, we’ve been extremely fortunate to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League in each our first 3 seasons in MLS.  Our results have been decent, but nothing to give the club the international respect that both ownership and supporters crave. 

The day the group stages ended the knockout stage bracket revealed the daunting task of potentially facing three Liga MX clubs on the road to Champions League glory.  Our first round opponent UANL Tigres from Monterrey, Mexico would be the first step on our path to Champions League history and earning that international respect.  And there was not a chance in hell that I’d miss it.

When the Sounders took the field March 6th in Monterrey they faced the largest crowd they had ever played in front of outside of Royal Brougham Park: 32,807 Tigres fans and 3 ECS members.  When they looked around the stadium taking in the atmosphere, we could see the look on each of their faces as they recognized us and they were not alone.  It was a look of surprise, relief and respect.  It’s a look that waters my eyes and warms my heart every time I see it.  As they smiled and applauded back to us, the coaching staff and bench players came out of the dugout to join them.  In that moment there was just us, united in our battle for Champions League glory.

The match itself is mostly a blur, a repetitive motion of our midfield losing possession and our defense making desperate clearances.  The home supporters were amazing, maintaining a high energy level for the full 90 minutes.  As the second half progressed and our defense remained stalwart, I could feel the nervous energy of the crowd building.  At several points the stadium exploded in response to a close effort or in encouragement during a prolonged attack by the home team.  When Tigres finally converted an opportunity into a goal, the whole building shook.  And yet, we had our opportunities to counter.  Eddie Johnson had some narrowly missed chances to pull even.  After their 1-0 loss, the Tigres fans were very friendly in the stadium, on the walk back to the car and around town the next day.

Though the result of the away leg may not have been what we desired escaping Northern Mexico with only a 1 goal deficit gave coaches, players and supporters a confidence that we could make history by becoming the first MLS club to eliminate a Liga MX club from CCL.  Just one week later, we returned home to Royal Brougham Park and did exactly that.  Our champions league hopes were dashed on the streets of Torreon a few weeks later.  You've missed your last chance now for CCL away, next time be sure to make the supporters dream come true by supporting the club around the world!