The first leg of Seattle’s Western Conference Semifinals against Santos Laguna is in the books and while the Sounders trail the series 1-0, there was much that Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid can gleam from the match.
Here are some things we learned on Tuesday night.
After Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake, Schmid made it clear that he needed more consistent effort from his club. Tuesday showed without a doubt that his message came across clearly. Part of the delivery of that message came in Seattle’s lineup, a 4-5-1 that featured blue collar players like Zach Scott and Alex Caskey that did not start against Salt Lake. Incorporating those two into the lineup on Tuesday helped in raising the overall workrate of the team and it came across in the quality of the performance.
“I think we worked. I think we worked for each other and didn’t pick and choose. That’s the important part of the game, you’ve got to work all the time,” Schmid said. “It’s when the game requires you to work, not when you want to work. We still have to get better in the final third, there’s still a lack of movement when we’re getting it to crossing positions and dangerous positions, so that’s something we still have to work on.”
The midfield will be a force
The prospect of Osvaldo Alonso and Shalrie Joseph disrupting opposing midfields was a promising one for Schmid and the Sounders and on Tuesday, they got a glimpse of just what that midfield can provide. Despite only having a handful of training sessions together after Joseph recovered from a calf strain that sidelined him in training camp, Alonso and Joseph were able to unsettle the Santos attack, giving additional defensive support while also providing a link to the attack.
“I think defensively we were solid,” Joseph said. “Ozzie is just an unbelievable player defensively and going forward. Now I just have to step up my level, match his intensity, match his game preparation, match everything he does and keep pushing this team forward. We’ve got a lot of creative guys on the outside and up top. Once he and I get on the same page together I think it’s going to be really good for this team and really good for both of our careers.”
Finishing is key
At the end of 90 minutes only one thing separated the Sounders and Santos and that was a stellar finish by Herculez Gomez. The US National Team forward saw an opportunity to break the game in the 54th minute and pounced for the game’s only goal.
The Sounders were able to keep pace with Santos, taking 13 shots to 14 for the Mexican club. However, Santos put five of those shots on goal while Seattle had just two. Simply adding Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins won’t remedy that problem alone. With both players out with injuries, the Sounders lacked the bold nose for the goal, however they will need to blend with the workmanlike group to find success in Mexico, if they recover in time to be included in the lineup.
The mountain is high, but can still be scaled
The Sounders have a difficult task ahead of them in the second leg on April 9 in Torreon, Mexico. Santos Laguna is 16-2-8 at Estadio Corona since the start of the 2012 Clausura and 10-0-0 in CONCACAF Champions League over the last two tournaments, outscoring the opposition 37-7. They have outscored MLS clubs 18-3 in their five matches at home against them.
Seattle’s focus undoubtedly won’t be on the 34 matches that have seen positive results for Santos, but rather the two that didn’t. Any victory that sees the Sounders score more than one goal will put them through to the final while a 1-0 win would force overtime.
“We just now have to go down there and play pretty much a perfect game. That’s not impossible,” Schmid said. “It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible.”