MONTERREY, Mexico – The Sounders FC escaped the mouth of “The Volcano” on Wednesday night with just a 1-0 loss at Estadio Universitario against the top club in Mexico, Tigres UANL, in the first leg of their aggregate goal series in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
The narrow defeat leaves the Sounders with plenty of optimism heading into the second leg on Tuesday at CenturyLink Field, where they will need a 1-0 win to force overtime or a two-goal victory to win outright and advance to the semifinals.
Traore is as expected
The Sounders had high hopes for Djimi Traore when they brought the former Liverpool defender in for training camp and on Wednesday, he delivered with a standout performance in his Sounders FC debut. Starting alongside Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Traore was part of a defense that was tested from the opening whistle and, for the most part, they came up big against a strong opponent in Tigres.
Tigres managed 18 shots on the night, but eight of those came from outside of the box, five were blocked and six more missed the frame. The Sounders did dodge some bullets throughout the match, but part of the credit should go to the defense, too, as they never made things easy for Tigres.
As for Traore, head coach Sigi Schmid was happy with what he saw in his first chance to wear the Sounders crest.
“I thought Djimi did well,” Schmid said. “I think he helped us in securing our defense, organized us well, cleared the ball when he needed to. He had good calm and composure back there and that helped us.”
Toughest test behind them
The Sounders won’t face a more daunting road opponent in MLS – or any other competition, for that matter – than Tigres at home.
They are 6-0-3 in the first nine matches of the season in Liga MX. They are unbeaten in their last nine matches at home. In the Champions League Group Stage matches in August and October, they outscored their opposition 9-0.
Since January of last year, they now stand 15-2-9 at “El Volcan” after topping the Sounders 1-0 on Wednesday, so keeping a tight result was no easy task and speaks volumes about Seattle moving forward.
“For us to play a team like that, where they're in a good rhythm, and for us to play them as early as we have in our season … To come in here in a very difficult environment with a great atmosphere and a very supportive Tigres crowd, to have the character to be able to do what we did tonight was very important,” Schmid said.
Ozzie in charge
The Sounders played their regular season opener without defensive midfield dynamo Osvaldo Alonso and on Wednesday, Alonso showed just what was missing from the lineup when he made his first start of 2013.
He finished the night with five tackles, four interceptions and three blocks and gained possession for the Sounders 14 times – all highs for the team. All the while, he was only whistled for one foul and completed 94-percent of his passes.
After the match, he was ready to face Tigres again.
“I feel good. My body is okay. I walked away without injury, which is always good,” he said. “I played 90 minutes and feel great, so I hope in the next game I'll give 100% again.”
A loss, but not defeated
In the three previous times that the Sounders have played on the road first in an aggregate-goal series, they have never returned to Seattle with a goal, much less a victory.
In the 2011 Champions League preliminary round, they fell behind to San Francisco of Panama 1-0, then came back to win the return leg 1-0, eventually winning in overtime to advance to the Group Stage.
The other two were much more difficult mountains to climb – 3-0 losses in the MLS Cup playoffs to Real Salt Lake in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals and to the LA Galaxy in the 2012 Western Conference Championship series. In both instances, the Sounders managed two goals at home, topping RSL 2-0 and the LA Galaxy 2-1.
Now they face a much more manageable task in trailing 1-0 entering Tuesday’s second leg.
“We’re disappointed that we lost, but one-zero is not bad,” Alonso said. “We have a chance to play in Seattle and win this thing. It’s going to be a tough game, but we have a good chance to win it.”
Kickoff is slated for 7 pm PT on Tuesday at CenturyLink Field. Tickets are still available at SoundersFC.com.