SEATTLE - In the 89th minute of the Sounders FC’s CONCACAF Champions League match against Herediano on Tuesday night, Sammy Ochoa got his head to a cross and looked to be ready to celebrate his first goal as a Sounder.
Instead, Daniel Cambronero’s right hand came from out of nowhere, spearing the ball out of the air and parrying it wide of the net, nearly scooping it from within the confines of the goal frame to keep the Sounders out of the net.
It was one of four saves for Cambronero on a night that he thwarted all of Seattle’s attempts to come back from a 1-0 first-half deficit in the fourth group stage match for the Sounders FC.
The resulting 1-0 defeat was the first loss of the group stage for the Sounders FC, though they held on to the top spot in Group D with nine points and a 3-1-0 record.
“Overall, not one of our best matches,” said Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid, who made several changes to his lineup that topped Herediano 2-1 six days earlier in Costa Rica. “We’re dealing with injuries and a heavy schedule, so we had to make some lineup decisions based on that. At the end of the day, our quality tonight wasn’t good enough.”
Seattle managed just one shot on goal in the first half, although they were able to connect some passes and mount some runs, but could not create scoring opportunities from them.
On their best chance of the half, Lamar Neagle crossed a ball from the endline up the left side. It bounced past Pat Noonan to Nate Jaqua, who swung his left foot into a sidewinding shot that just missed over the crossbar for a goal kick in the 22nd minute.
Herediano, meanwhile, got two solid opportunities, hitting the post with a sliding shot from Jorge Barbosa in the 14th minute before taking the lead in the 25th on a Yosimar Arias free kick. He bent a well-placed ball over Seattle’s four-man wall and into the open side of the net.
“Herediano scored a good goal. It was a free good kick,” Schmid said.
In the second half, Seattle adapted better to the formation Herediano utilized for much of the match, masquerading a 3-5-2 as a 5-3-2. The insertion of Osvaldo Alonso and Fredy Montero also bettered the quality for Seattle, as they took nine second-half shots, getting three of them on target.
“The game certainly changed when they came into the game. They’re quality players,” Schmid said. “Alonso got us a little quicker to our marks at midfield, which is what I asked him to do. Montero was able to hold the ball a little bit for us up front and allow people to join in. It helps our game when they’re able to come in and do that.”
Ochoa’s late chance was one of many that Seattle was able to generate in the second half, but was the most promising on a night when shots seemed to narrowly miss the frame with dramatic frequency.
“We had plenty of chances to put them away. In the second half, we were putting balls in the box all day, but it was just one of those days,” Neagle said. “Their goalie was everywhere. Credit to him. He did well tonight.”
Added Ochoa of his 89th minute effort, “I thought it was in and out of nowhere his hand showed up.”
The result gives Herediano life in the final two matches of the group stage. However, because the other two teams in the group, Monterrey and Comunicaciones, split their matches, Seattle still holds control of their own destiny. A win or tie next week in Guatemala against a Comunicaciones side that was bested 4-1 by the Sounders in Seattle on August 16 will put the Sounders through to the quarterfinals.
“Tuesday we need to get a result. Right now, it’s about that. We need to go into Guatemala and get a result,” Schmid said, noting that the first order of business is Saturday night against the Vancouver Whitecaps in MLS play. “We want to win the Vancouver game because that wins us the Cascadia Cup and that's important to us as a club as well.”
The Sounders two remaining matches in the Champions League group stage are September 27 in Guatemala against Comunicaciones and October 18 at CenturyLink Field against Monterrey. The match in Guatemala falls in the midst of a three-game, eight-day stretch that will see the Sounders play in three different countries, in three different time zones, starting with the Whitecaps on Saturday in Vancouver and finishing October 1 with a road match against the New England Revolution.
Sounders FC - None.
Herediano - Yosimar Arias 25.
Sounders FC - Lamar Neagle (caution) 16; Patrick Ianni (caution) 62.
Herediano - Jose Luis Cordero (caution) 35; Yosimar Arias (caution) 58; Jorge Barbosa (caution) 67; Daniel Cambronero (caution) 77.
Sounders FC - Kasey Keller, Zach Scott (Sammy Ochoa 74), Patrick Ianni, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Leo Gonzalez, Roger Levesque (Fredy Montero 56), Servando Carrasco, Amadou Sanyang (Osvaldo Alonso 56), Lamar Neagle, Nate Jaqua, Pat Noonan.
Herediano - Daniel Cambronero, Cristian Montero, Erick Sanchez, Francisco Calvo, Marvin Obando, Pablo Salazar, Jose Luis Cordero, Yosimar Arias (Olman Vargas 71), Junior Alvarado, Jorge Barbosa, Anderson Andrade (Marvin Angulo 86).