<
>

Pumas' Sebastian Saucedo on Liga MX-MLS rivalry, U.S.-Mexico hopes: 'I can contribute'

play
Could Mexico be facing early elimination from the World Cup? (1:31)

Sebastian Salazar assesses how Mexico will matchup against Argentina, Poland and Saudi Arabia in Group C. (1:31)

Following a CONCACAF Champions League loss on a snowy pitch to the New England Revolution on March 9, Pumas UNAM star Sebastian Saucedo knew that all hope was not lost.

Down 3-0 after the first leg of their quarterfinals matchup, Pumas and Saucedo stunned their Major League Soccer rivals in the second leg one week later that featured a remarkable 3-0 comeback of their own in Mexico City. Saucedo, a 25-year-old Real Salt Lake product that has previously represented the United States on the youth international level, scored the third goal of the night that eventually pushed the CCL series to penalties. Once there, Pumas secured a stunning place in the semis with a 4-3 victory in the penalty shootout.

Pumas continue their improbable run in the Champions League, facing off against fellow Mexico City side Cruz Azul in a two-legged matchup starting Tuesday. The winners will then advance to what will be a Liga MX-MLS final in May, against either the Seattle Sounders FC or New York City FC.

Ahead of Tuesday's pivotal first-leg clash against Cruz Azul, Saucedo spoke with ESPN about what it's like play for a gigante like Pumas, the growing MLS-Liga MX rivalry, and about his own future for club and country.

Note: The Q&A was done over two interviews and has been edited for clarity.


ESPN: How big of a result was that comeback over the Revolution for you and the club?

Sebastian Saucedo: It was a big, big, big result for us. At the end of the day, we're a type of team that wants to compete in international tournaments and be back into something like the Leagues Cup and the CCL. The CCL is a big tournament because it can guide us to go to the FIFA Club World Cup, so it's something that is really huge.

That's one part. The second part is in the aspect of being down and coming back. It just shows the character and the willingness of our team that wants to really be better. In the league [Liga MX] right now, we haven't done it the way we've wanted to, but games like this show the type of team we really are.

From the personal side, I was very happy to get on the scoresheet. Especially against an MLS club and to show the capability of our team and what I can do for the team as well.

Pumas were Liga MX finalists in the 2020 Apertura and then semifinalists last season. Are Pumas close to winning it all?

I hope so. I have a Copa MX championship under my belt, and I would love to get a league one. Especially being here [at Pumas] and how important it is to this culture, to this city. It would be amazing. I can't stress enough and tell media how hard it is to play in this league, there's so many good players, so many good teams. It's just amazing. I love it. I enjoy it; it's a lot of competition.

There have been a number of impressive players this season for Pumas, but one that immediately comes to mind is Rogerio. How big of an impact has he had for Pumas this season?

It was difficult [at first] for him to get in rhythm. It was really tough for our Brazilian players to get in rhythm with the team, but he's been amazing. He's done things that he was doing in training sessions. We knew he had it in him. It was just a matter of time and fitness levels, all that type of stuff.

At the end of the day, we've rotated so much with lineups, with formations, so it's been all of us. It's been the whole team, we've all been leaders in our own way and help each other out in the best way possible.

Pumas' famed cantera (academy) has produced Mexico legends like Hugo Sanchez, Jorge Campos, and Claudio Suarez. Who is someone to keep an eye on?

I'm excited for this kid [20-year-old] Jorge Ruvalcaba. For [17-year-old Miguel] Carreon, I think his dad was a former professional that played for Santos. I'm excited for this other kid that just came up to our team, [20-year-old] Santiago Trigos, he's a player that came in against Saprissa [in the CCL] and recovered a ton of balls. He actually recovered one of the balls that ended up being the fourth goal. It's kind of cool to see all these young kids getting opportunities and taking advantage of them, that's really what matters.

Have you been impressed by the MLS sides in the competition?

I'm definitely impressed, it's good to finally see the competition being raised. Seattle is a very important team and New York, those are two really, really good teams. It's been a privilege to watch them grow and have key players for them doing well against the Mexican sides.

It's definitely been a challenge. Against New England, I'm not going to blame the weather or us going into a weather storm and not performing [in a 3-0 loss in the first leg of the quarterfinals]. It's not an excuse, it could be something that can go either way. I didn't travel so I didn't make it to the first leg but I saw an article about how their No. 10 said "we probably played our best game against Pumas" and it was snowing. A week later, I see another article where they played against [Real] Salt Lake and they blamed the snow.

It could have gone either way. When they came to us [for the second leg], it was nice and perfect weather, and we ended up showcasing what we were made of.

What are the challenges that can emerge from playing for a team that has such a huge following from media and fans?

It's been super hard on the players. At least during my time here, these two years and a half, I made it into a Liga MX final [in the 2020 Apertura], and then the next tournament [2021 Clausura] not even making playoffs, to the next tournament [2021 Apertura] making it into the semifinals. It all adds up, it's not easy to play at a big club like this, but that's what it's about. We are at a big club for a reason, the responsibility that it takes to play for one of these teams is definitely not an easy one. You have the fan pressure, the board, everyone at the club, the coaches, they expect high things of us. We respond by working hard everyday and by getting results in a positive way.

I believe that my two years and a half here have been very positive. I made it to the [Liga MX] final, didn't become a champion, became a semifinalist and now in the semifinals of the Champions League. Imagine if this was the other way around and I was a champion in all those tournaments, that would have been something that turns heads, but soccer is like that. You win and you lose.

I'm proud of myself, I'm proud of my team, I'm proud of the coaching staff and everyone that has given us the opportunity, but it definitely hasn't been easy and it's not easy playing at a big club like this.

Should a player like yourself -- at a Liga MX club with plenty of pressure week in and week out -- get more attention from the USMNT?

It's not in my...to give an opinion. At the end of the day, [USMNT manager] Gregg [Berhalter] makes good decisions.

I'm not talking about just myself, but technically, I'm playing against a lot of great teams like Club America, Tigres, Cruz Azul, Leon, Chivas. These are all important teams to the league. The competition against these teams, they have a lot of national team players who play in their countries, whether it's in Mexico or in South America. It's very limited for us, but that's something for me to not give my opinion.

I think it's something where Gregg has his opinion on his players, and that's good because there's a lot of really good, young, talented players in Europe. He's done a great job by qualifying for the World Cup and having an amazing team. He's done such an amazing selection. I would love to go to a January camp or a friendly or something where I can get cap-tied. You never know, Mexico can give me the opportunity, we all don't know.

Would that be something that you would be open to? Would you be open to a switch to Mexico?

I've been here for two years and a half. It's been nothing but positive things, and I have teammates that are on the [Mexican] national team that talk really high about it, just like our national team in the U.S.

I haven't given up on the [U.S.] national team either. I feel like I can contribute at least to a friendly game or a January camp where we play against each other or do inter-squads. I don't know, I don't close doors to anything. I'm pretty open.

Time is flying by, and I'm not that young promising kid, I'm not that young kid anymore. It's not like I should be waiting for an opportunity. I think what's best for me is working for my club and helping my club in the best way possible so we can confront another playoff run and finish strong in the Champions League. It's just positive.

There's a couple, I don't know, there's maybe two or three players in the U.S. national team in Seattle, getting called up to the national team. And there's Pumas, and myself that's not getting called up to the U.S. national team, and I'm in the CCL semifinal as well. I think it's just a matter of time. Work harder, train harder, keep doing what I'm doing with my team. If not, it's okay. I don't stress.

Are you hoping to sign a new deal with Pumas?

Yeah, we're in talks. There's other options as well here in Mexico. There's some options in MLS, and that's just something where I want to let people know that it could be an easy call for me and say "Sebastian, you and your family are going to go back to MLS. You can live comfortably, you can go back with your family" and just be in MLS and be home. But at the end of the day, I feel like I want to give myself more and sacrifice. If it's Pumas and we come to an agreement, I'm willing to sacrifice a couple more years of my career. I like to work, I like the challenges, I've definitely matured throughout the years.

[Real] Salt Lake was nothing but the best for me and the best for my family, they gave me everything. I've matured now, coming to a big team [Pumas] like this, you have to mature or else you're out. It just shows you the values of life.

Like I said, whether if it's the U.S., Mexican national team, whatever it is, I'm going to keep working my butt off. Wherever I get an opportunity and if it's not given and if it's not the right time, and if I don't get called up to a national team, I don't stress either. I'm lucky I have a job, I can provide for my family, I'm healthy and I'm playing. That's really all that matters for me.

Would you would also be open to return to MLS and perhaps a move back to Real Salt Lake?

No, I don't think Salt Lake is open or I don't know if they would really want me back. I'm open to coming back to MLS, but at the end of the day I really want another contract here in Mexico before I come back to MLS. With that being said, if it doesn't work out, obviously I would be open to a lot of things. I'm open to coming back to MLS, signing here, or wherever if there's a team that's interested in Saudi Arabia. I'm willing to sacrifice wherever I go, I have my wife, I have my daughter, I have my dog, if it takes me to go to a different country around the world, we're there.