For only the second time in club history, the Seattle Sounders are headed to the Concacaf Champions League semifinal. But even after a well-earned 1-1 road draw against León on Thursday night to advance on a dominant 4-1 aggregate score, the Sounders weren’t entirely satisfied.

“We came to win,” said Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “We wanted to win. We wanted to keep a shutout.”

The Sounders nearly did, with León, who needed to score five unanswered goals after Fredy Montero’s converted penalty in first-half stoppage time, found a consolation tally at the death. It was the kind of professional, mature performance that one has grown to expect from the Sounders.

After a 3-0 thrashing at home in the first leg in which the Sounders left a few more goals on the table, Schmetzer switched to a 5-4-1 formation with three center backs. He instructed his team to force the ball wide and dare León to whip in crosses, something they did with limited success.

“The game plan worked,” said Schmetzer. “The tactics were spot on…Adding a third center back in there was the correct decision.”

With reigning MLS Best XI defender Yeimar sidelined with a high ankle sprain he suffered over the weekend, the Sounders turned to rookie Jackson Ragen, the Seattle native making just his second First Team start. The University of Michigan product was stellar all evening, looking more than comfortable filling Yeimar’s big shoes at center back.

“I felt Jackson was going to be a big part of our team this year,” said midfielder Cristian Roldan. “He showed that today. He can play in a four [in the back], he can play in a five. I want to give a shoutout to our whole back line. They were tremendous today. It’s really unfortunate that we gave up that last goal because I thought we defended really well.”

The Sounders knew that if they found a crucial away goal that they could feel more comfortable about the result. When João Paulo was fouled in the box on the brink of halftime and Montero scored his third penalty in as many matches, Schmetzer & Co. knew they had all but advanced into the next round.

“As soon as we scored the first goal, the balloon burst a little bit,” said Schmetzer. “It’s a testament to the guys’ strength of character. The first half we were defending for long periods of time, but I knew we were going to get those one or two or three quality chances. We were able to score one and that effectively put the game out of reach.”

The Sounders’ win guarantees that an MLS team will qualify for the CCL Final for just the fifth time. Seattle will meet New York City FC in the semifinal, with the winner of that tie taking on either Cruz Azul or Pumas.

Seattle leaves León with a quick turnaround, as the club heads directly to Texas to take on Austin FC in league play on Sunday (1:30 p.m. PT; FS1, FOX Deportes, 1090 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM). The Sounders will look to build on their 3-2 win over the LA Galaxy last weekend and get the better of Austin at Q2 Stadium for the second consecutive year.

“We’ll celebrate a little bit tonight, but it’s not a celebration where we’ve won anything,” said Roldan. “It’s something to be proud of, but we have another tough opponent in a couple days in Austin. It’s going to be difficult, and we’re going to need a lot of bodies, a lot of players on our team to step up."



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