TORREON, Mexico – Back on June 28, 2011, the Sounders started on a journey that finally came to a close on Tuesday.
On that date, the Sounders topped the PDL’s Kitsap Pumas 2-1 at Starfire Stadium, starting Seattle’s run to their third straight US Open Cup title. That championship qualified them for the 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League and on Tuesday, they bowed out of that tournament after a 1-1 draw against Santos Laguna at Estadio Corona eliminated them with a 2-1 series loss.
That labor of 21 months saw the Sounders top the LA Galaxy and FC Dallas in the Open Cup before capping off a marathon travel week with a 2-0 win over the Chicago Fire in the 2011 Open Cup final. They cruised through the Champions League Group Stage with four wins over Caledonia of Trinidad and Marathon of Honduras. Then they made history by becoming the first MLS club to eliminate a Liga MX club in the Championship Round of Champions League with a 3-2 win over Tigres UANL.
Just short of the championship finals, though, the Sounders ended their run. While there are many things to be said of their whole journey, here are four things we learned of the finale in a 1-1 draw with Santos on Tuesday.
The Sounders still made history on Tuesday
If a team goes into Estadio Corona and walks off the field without losing the match, usually they can walk out with their heads held high. That is especially true in CONCACAF Champions League.
In that tournament, Santos had won 10 straight and 19 of their 20 home matches. If that wasn’t dominating enough, they did so in quite destructive fashion, too, outscoring their opposition 71-17.
The Sounders know all about that dominance too. In last year’s CCL quarterfinals, they fell 6-1 to a Santos team that would go on to the tournament finals before finally losing to Monterrey. On Tuesday, they bucked that trend by not just playing competitively against Santos, but also left them breathing a sigh of relief by the end of the match. Seattle outshot Santos 19-11 and put five of those shots on target, to just two for Santos.
The end result may not have been enough to get the Sounders through, but it was still a result worth taking note of.
“We knew that they’re a powerful team from Mexico, and we stepped on the field and we did a great job,” midfielder Mauro Rosales said. “We played very hard against them, we battled, we fought. We had everything we needed to defeat them, and it was a pity that we didn’t.”
Almost enough isn’t enough
The Sounders came to Mexico with their eyes fixed on winning the match and advancing to the tournament final. So while playing Santos close may show that the gap between MLS and Liga MX is narrowing, they left the field disappointed that they were unable to accomplish the goal of winning the Champions League tournament.
“Losing always makes it kind of bitter,” said midfielder Lamar Neagle, who came on as a second-half substitute and scored the match equalizer. “It is nice to realize where US Soccer is going and we can come down here and get a goal and get a tie like that, but we were definitely coming in here looking for a win.”
The Sounders are filled with confidence
Seattle may have just one win in eight matches in MLS and CCL play this year, but they do not lack for confidence.
Never did they think they couldn’t come back against Santos Laguna, even when they went down 2-0 in the series. Neagle’s second half goal just brought some of that confidence to the surface.
“The belief was there since minute one,” Rosales said. “I think we could’ve scored in the first half, I think we had enough chances to score at least one goal, but this is soccer. We couldn’t score every chance that we create.”
The defense is improving
In two matches against one of the best attacking trios the Sounders will see all year, Seattle held Santos to just two goals. This after doing the same against a Tigres team that is still unbeaten in Liga MX at 8-0-5.
“They’re a dangerous team and they created chances,” Schmid said of Santos, noting that Seattle made the necessary halftime adjustments to limit their opportunities in the final 45 minutes. “From that standpoint I thought we were okay. They’re the kind of team that we know have enough quality up front that they’re going to create some things.”
That bodes well for a team still looking for their first shutout of the season and this week they will go against a Revolution team struggling on offense with just one goal through their first four games. The Sounders will host New England on Saturday at 1 pm PT at CenturyLink Field.