Until Tuesday night there was one clear-cut top accomplishment in MLS history. It was Real Salt Lake's run to the CONCACAF Champions League final last season, where they fell to Monterrey in a close, two-legged playoff. Not since CONCACAF ditched the laughable and nearly insignificant Champions Cup for the Champions League had any club from outside of Mexico qualified for the tournament final, but Salt Lake made it there, topping the list of Major League Soccer's most impressive accomplishments.
Then on Tuesday night the Seattle Sounders went to Monterrey, Mexico and defeated arguably the most talented team in the Mexican Primera that has undoubtedly the region's best player. Oh yeah, and they did it while short on players. Never before, Salt Lake's appearance in the Champions League final included, has a team pulled off anything as impressive as what Seattle did on Tuesday in Nuevo Leon.
Before even getting to whether Seattle's win tops Real Salt Lake's accomplishment, it is easy to point to FC Dallas' win over Pumas the week prior as more impressive than Seattle's win. After all, Dallas became the very first MLS team to win a competitive match in Mexico. The truth is that they beat a Pumas side filled with reserves and youth players and not even their best youth players at that with Diego De Buen, Carlos Orrantia and David Izazola off with the Mexico U-20 team. Simply winning in Mexico was a big step for MLS considering all of the other times MLS teams couldn't beat Mexican reserve teams, but it pales in comparison to what the Sounders did.
Monterrey played Seattle with almost their entire first team. Humberto Suazo and Aldo de Nigris led the line for the Rayados. That means that the Sounders went up against the best player CONCACAF has to offer in Suazo, and a player who is better than any MLS striker in de Nigris. They held a team led by those two scoreless in Mexico. Jesus Zavala is becoming a regular with Mexico and is one of the Primera's top midfielders, while Jonathan Orozco is one of the top goalkeepers the league has to offer. Hiram Mier is a top-notch defender and Neri Cardozo is a fantastic winger.
So Monterrey put forth a team filled with top players. There is no questioning the incredible talent in the Monterrey team on Tuesday night and being last year's Champions League winners, they are not short on experience. Meanwhile, Seattle was prioritizing MLS play. They are giving chase to the LA Galaxy for the Supporters Shield and chose to leave four starters, Kasey Keller, Mauro Rosales, Fredy Montero and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, at home. Those are not ordinary starters either. Those are the top players in the Sounders team. Whereas the argument has long been that Primera reserve teams could handle MLS first teams, this was almost the Sounders' reserve team going to Mexico and toppling one of Mexico's best.
A class goal from Alvaro Fernandez put Seattle ahead after 38 minutes. From there on it was the Sounders, minus their top central defender and starting goalkeeper, holding on against CONCACAF's top strike force. They had themselves a couple chances to stretch their lead, never better than when Osvaldo Alonso rounded the keeper, but ran the ball over the end line late on.
It wasn't always pretty as twice Terry Boss put a scare in Sounders supporters on seemingly innocuous plays and Suazo uncharacteristically took a poor touch on a good chance to finish, but in the end the Sounders were able to frustrate the Rayados. They were organized and didn't completely give away the midfield, a rarity for MLS teams holding an unpredicted lead. In the end, Seattle walked away 1-0 winners with a team that was hardly their best against some of the best CONCACAF had to offer.
Real Salt Lake could not say the same. Yes, they made a final, but the truth is that to truly stand out in CONCACAF you have to top Mexico. As far as club soccer goes, Mexico and its Primera Division is at the top of the mountain. Salt Lake was able to benefit from some fortunate drawing as all four Mexican teams ended up in the same side of the bracket in last year's knockout stages. That left Salt Lake with just Columbus and Saprissa in their way. The Crew were in shambles by then and Saprissa is a shell of their former selves, ceding the title of Costa Rica's best to Alejuelense. The only conquering of Mexico that Salt Lake could claim was beating out an under strength Cruz Azul team for first place in group play.
So what exactly did Real Salt Lake accomplish last year? They broke down a barrier. That is the same as what Dallas did. Both teams did something that no other MLS team had done before and their accomplishments are certainly something to be proud of, but they are milestones. They are moments when it was recognized that something, in this case MLS, took a step forward. They are not things that stand alone though the way that Seattle's win over Monterrey does.
The Sounders went to Monterrey and defeated one of Mexico's best. They defeated a team with the best player in CONCACAF who gets paid more than Seattle's team combined. They did it with several of their best players resting up in the Emerald City and they did it not with luck or help from referees, but with a good goal and good play. Simply put, Tuesday night stands as the crowning achievement for any MLS team ever.