Nelson Valdez scored his first goal of 2016 on a picture-perfect header and Jordan Morris made his long-awaited debut in a Seattle Sounders uniform on Tuesday night, but neither were enough to lift the Sounders to win in their final preseason game in Tucson, Ariz.
Instead it was Mexican second division side Celaya FC which came away with the 2-1 win thanks to a pair of early goals and just enough defense to hold off a Sounders side that played their expected starters for roughly an hour at the Kino Sports Complex.
Cristian Gordillo scored in the third minute and Victor Mañón padded the lead with a brilliant strike in the 16th for Celaya, who came to Arizona in midseason form and looked the far more cohesive unit in the early going.
"The first 20-25 minutes, we were horrible," head coach Sigi Schmid said. "A mistake early for the goal and then they hit a good goal on the second one. But we gave away too much space early in the game. After those 25 minutes, I thought we were the better team, and from there on out we had some chances."
The Sounders responded with a string of genuine scoring opportunities before the end of the first half, and Valdez finally converted in the 54th minute off a cross from Andreas Ivanschitz. The free kick was set up by marauding defender Joevin Jones, who was dragged down just outside the box as part of a busy and productive night on the left flank.
"Joevin did well," Schmid said. "He had a good game. It took him 15-20 minutes to get into the game, but after that I thought he was a very good attacking option for us."
Valdez started up top with Clint Dempsey and Darwin Jones, as head coach Sigi Schmid opted to once again use a starting lineup that should closely resemble the first group when the team opens the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals against Club America on Feb. 23 in Seattle.
The only exceptions on Tuesday were defender and captain Brad Evans (hamstring tightness) and striker Obafemi Martins (night off), who both watched the team’s final game in a week in the desert from the sidelines.
"You can't use [the game] as a metric, because you're at the end of a long stay and everybody wants to get home ... we've been here a long time," Schmid said. "We could tell already in the locker room before the game that mentally they were checked out a little bit, and we were hoping we didn't get off to a slow start and it didn't take something to wake them up."
Morris, meanwhile, made his debut in place of Darwin Jones at the half. He lined up on the right and later in the middle as the Sounders began to empty their bench less than 20 minutes into the second half, pulling Dempsey, Valdez, Ivanschitz and midfielder Osvaldo Alonso.
"He felt he could go, so we wanted to bring him on and let him play," Schmid said of Morris, who joined the team on Saturday. "He's new to our team, and he's never played with our team before. He's never really trained with our team before, so it's asking a lot of him."
Said Morris: "I like playing in the middle more, but obviously whatever gets you on the field. I’m happy to do whatever helps the team."
The Sounders nearly picked up an early goal off the head of Valdez, who slammed a diving header over the bar after a well-placed cross from Jones. Dempsey also appeared to draw a penalty kick in the 40th minute that went uncalled, and Ivanschitz ripped a shot from the top of the box in the 60th minute that had to be tipped over the bar.
The Sounders will return to Seattle later this week before playing two more friendlies next week in Mount San Antonio, Calif. They’re currently scheduled to play an unnamed opponent on Feb. 14 before taking on the LA Galaxy on Feb. 17.