ALAJUELA, Costa Rica - What a difference a year makes.
After three matches in the group stage of CONCACAF Champions League last year, the Sounders FC struggled trough two road defeats while also dropping a tough home match to the eventual champions, Monterrey.
This year, they opened with a 4-1 home victory and a surprising 1-0 win in Monterrey. On Wednesday, they continued their dramatic turnaround in Champions League play with a 2-1 road victory over Herediano.
“Last year we were disappointed in our performance in Champions League, maybe even a little bit embarrassed,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “It was definitely a goal we had set for ourselves that we wanted to get better as we came back into it. So we went 2-0 in our first three games on the road, which makes it even that much greater of an accomplishment. I’m very proud of what we have done.”
Fredy Montero scored twice, getting assists from Roger Levesque and Nate Jaqua on both tallies, and the defense stood strong against a series of threats from Herediano to hold on for the win, improving Seattle to 3-0-0 for nine points with three matches left to play.
Montero got the Sounders off to a fast start, netting a goal in his third straight match after scoring in the Open Cup semifinal against FC Dallas and in MLS play against Real Salt Lake in Seattle’s last two matches.
Roger Levesque played the ball in to Nate Jaqua at the top of the box. He turned on his defender and rolled it out to Montero up the right side, who bolted past his marker before sending a shot inside the far post for a 1-0 lead in the 3rd minute.
“I think we made some good plays. Sometimes one of us gets caught out there and I think we did a good job rotating and mixing it up and finding each other,” Jaqua said. “That first goal was a good example of that. Fredy made a really good run and I was able to slip it in and he had a great finish.”
The Sounders controlled much of the possession for the remainder of the first half, but had a few stray moments that allowed Herediano to stay in the match.
Then in the closing moments of the first half, Levesque was whistled for a foul in the box, as he collided with Jose Cubero as the two eyed a ball swung into the box from the far side.
Jose Cancela knocked home the ensuing penalty kick, shooting it to Kasey Keller’s right while Keller dove left to even the tally before the break.
The game didn’t remain knotted for long though, as Montero completed the brace with a lunging effort to knock home a nice left-footed shot from Levesque that took a slight deflection, Montero ensuring that it found the net at the far post.
In the waning moments of the match Herediano played long ball after long ball toward the Seattle box, but second half substitutions of Amadou Sanyang and James Riley pushed the Sounders into a defensive unit that was able to withstand the pressure without giving Herediano many opportunities on goal.
Their best chance came in the 86th minute when Marvin Angulo shot from 25 yards out, but Keller was able to parry the ball over the crossbar for what proved to be the deciding save.
“They were floating a lot of balls into the box. We feel pretty confident in our ability in the air, maybe needed to press the ball a little bit more but the defense held strong, came up with some big headers, made some big saves,” Schmid said. “Sometimes when you’re away from hom like this that’s just what you need to do to get the win.”
The Sounders now hold a three point lead over Comunicaciones of Guatemala, who topped Monterrey 2-1 on Wednesday to move to 2-1-0 in the group. Seattle will host Herediano on Tuesday at CenturyLink Field with a chance to wrap up a berth in the quarterfinals with a victory. First, though, they will meet DC United at CenturyLink Field with a chance to tighten their grip on second place in the MLS standings.
Sounders FC - Fredy Montero (Nate Jaqua, Roger Levesque) 3; Fredy Montero (Roger Levesque, Nate Jaqua) 54.
Herediano - Jose Cancela (PK) 46+.
Sounders FC - Zach Scott (caution) 36; Alvaro Fernandez (caution) 43.
Herediano - Victor Nunez (caution) 53.
Sounders FC - Kasey Keller, Zach Scott, Patrick Ianni, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Leo Gonzalez, Roger Levesque (James Riley 90), Servando Carrasco, Alvaro Fernandez, Lamar Neagle (Amadou Sanyang 82), Fredy Montero, Nate Jaqua (Pat Noonan 73).
Herediano - Daniel Cambronero, Christian Montero, Pablo Salazar, Marvin Obando, Jose Luis Cordero, Jose Cubero, Junior Alvarado (Marvin Angulo 78), Jose Cancela, Anderson Andrade (Diego Madrigal 64), Olman Vargas, Victor Nunez (Jorge Barbosa 75).