TORREON, Mexico – In the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal round against Tigres UANL, the Sounders scored three goals in the final 45 minutes of the series to stage a dramatic comeback from a two-goal deficit and oust the Liga MX leaders.
They would need a similar effort on Tuesday in the semifinal series, but this time they wouldn’t have their home crowd to back them up. Instead they were at vaunted Estadio Corona, where Santos Laguna has established a dominant presence with a nine-game winning streak in Champions League and a 19-1-0 record in CCL action overall.
Though they got a start to their comeback attempt thanks to a second-half goal from Lamar Neagle, they were unable to find the series-clinching goal and they were eliminated in the semifinals with 1-1 draw in the match and a 2-1 series defeat to Santos Laguna, who will return to the Champions League final for a second straight season.
“We knew we needed to score just two goals to advance and the guys battled,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “We put ourselves in a position where we could have advanced and won it. Our finishing needed to be better, but I’m proud of our quality and the effort we put in tonight.”
The Sounders got off to a fast start with opportunities from Steve Zakuani, Shalrie Joseph and Eddie Johnson over the first 20 minutes, but they couldn’t find their finishing touch.
Johnson nearly put Seattle on the board off an early corner, but missed high with his side-winding shot off the rebound of a Joseph header. Two minutes later Zakuani would get to the back post, but his attempt was defended away for a corner.
In the 17th minute, Joseph got his head to another corner kick, but put his effort high.
It didn’t take long for Santos to capitalize.
In the 21st minute Carlos Quintero lined up over a free kick and amidst some confusion, blasted a shot from 26 yards out that hit the bottom of the cross bar and bounced down across the goal line before bouncing back out. The linesman raised his flag to signal a goal and Santos took a 1-0 lead in the match and a 2-0 lead in the series.
Seattle continued to press for scoring chances, but the greater opportunities still went to Santos. In the 43rd minute, Quintero nearly added another goal, but his shot from the top of the box caromed off the frame and the Oribe Peralta’s attempt on the rebound sailed high for a goal kick.
After halftime, Seattle got out to a fast start and Osvaldo Alonso put Oswaldo Sanchez under pressure with a run up the right side of the box in the 47th minute. Alonso got enough space to get his shot away but Sanchez was able to make the save to keep Seattle off the scoreboard.
Throughout the second half, things continued to open up for the Sounders and the substitute appearances by Mauro Rosales and Lamar Neagle around the hour mark brought fresh legs and needed energy to the field.
In the 73rd minute, Neagle ran up the right side and spotted Zakuani for a shot that Sanchez blocked for the save. The rebound spilled to Neagle and he pummeled it into the net for the goal, evening the match at 1-1 and bringing the Sounders within a goal at 2-1 in the series.
“Going in I knew their defenders were going to be tired and my job was just to work,” Neagle said. “It was a good ball over the top. I saw Steve on the other side. I played it to him and then I got the fortunate bounce off the goalie.”
In the 83rd minute, Joseph nearly found the series winner. Rosales sent in a corner kick from the right side and it bounced through the box to Alex Caskey on the far side. He lifted a cross back to the edge of the six-yard box and Joseph got his head to it in heavy traffic, but Sanchez sprung to his right to make the save.
In the 88th minute, Herculez Gomez nearly put the Sounders away when he got space on the right side, but his shot skipped wide of the far post.
The Sounders weren’t able to capitalize on that miss though, and fell just short of the comeback victory.
“We had chances, and right now the onus is on our guys to finish their chances,” Schmid said. “We haven’t finished chances well enough, and we have to do a better job of that and it’ll make game easier.”
Santos now awaits the winner of the series between the Monterrey and the LA Galaxy. Monterrey leads the series 2-1 after the first leg and they will play the second leg at Monterrey’s Estadio Tecnologico on Wednesday night.
The Sounders, meanwhile, return to MLS action on Saturday afternoon at 1 against the New England Revolution at CenturyLink Field.
Sounders FC – Lamar Neagle 73.
Santos Laguna – Carlos Quintero 21.
Sounders FC – Zach Scott (caution) 20; Mauro Rosales (caution) 66.
Santos Laguna – None.
Sounders FC – Michael Gspurning, DeAndre Yedlin, Zach Scott, Djimi Traore, Leo Gonzalez, Alex Caskey, Osvaldo Alonso, Shalrie Joseph, Mario Martinez (Mauro Rosales 59), Steve Zakuani (Sammy Ochoa 77) and Eddie Johnson (Lamar Neagle 61).
Santos Laguna - Oswaldo Sanchez, Jorge Estrada, Felipe Baloy, Aaron Galindo, Osmar Mares, Rodolfo Salinas, Juan Pablo Rodriguez, Nestor Calderon (Candido Ramirez 64), Herculez Gomez, Carlos Quintero (Mario Cardenas 89) and Oribe Peralta.