SEATTLE – Two goals from Clint Dempsey and a record-setting crowd for the first game of 2016 weren’t quite enough Tuesday night for the Seattle Sounders, who settled for a 2-2 draw against Mexican side Club America in the first leg of the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals at CenturyLink Field.
Dempsey scored on a gorgeous free kick in the first half and an emphatic header in the second, but Club America captain Rubens Sambueza dished out two assists to lead the visitors from Liga MX back from the brink from a loss on the road in the first game of the two-leg, aggregate-goal series.
Darwin Quintero scored in the 45th minute and and Oribe Peralta added another in the 70th for for Club America, who will now play hosts for the all-important second leg at the historic Estadio Azteca in Mexico City on March 2. Only two MLS teams have beaten a Liga MX side in the knockout round of the tournament since 2008, but the Sounders were able to accomplish the feat in 2013, knocking off Tigres in the quarterfinals.
Dempsey was still five months away from joining the Sounders at that point, and had never played in a SCCL game before Tuesday night. But after a frenetic and aggressive first 20 minutes from both sides, Dempsey made an emphatic mark on the game with the opening goal in the 44th minute.
After drawing a foul on Paul Aguilar roughly 25 yards from goal, Dempsey promptly curled a gorgeous right-footed free kick past helpless goalkeeper Hugo Gonzalez in net, a goal similar but somehow even more stunning than the free kick he scored at the opposite end of CenturyLink Field in the MLS Cup Playoffs last fall against FC Dallas.
Quintero answered just a minute later, however, after walking a fine line up top all night long against the Seattle defenders. Sambueza looped a ball from midfield over the top to the streaking Quintero, who surged past Chad Marshall on the breakaway and beat Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Dempsey responded with his second goal of the night and put Seattle up 2-1 not long after the break, climbing over defender Miguel Samudio in the 54th minute to nod a header down and past Gonzalez off a corner kick from Andreas Ivanschitz.
That goal, too, didn’t last long enough for the Sounders. Peralta poked in a curling cross from Sambuezo from just outside the box after getting behind the Seattle back line, evening the score at 2-2. That largely hushed an otherwise raucous crowd of 42,836, a new Sounders club record for attendance for an SCCL game, previously set last September against Vancouver (37,642).
The two teams played a frantic first 20 minutes before settling in, and both clubs had early scoring chances that narrowly missed the mark.
The first chance belonged to the Sounders and forward Jordan Morris, making his debut after signing a much-celebrated Homegrown Player contract last month. Morris nearly picked up his first professional goal in the 12th minute when his header off a Sounders corner kick deflected off Club America defender Osvaldo Martinez and on goal, but it was pawed off the line by Gonzalez.
Club America responded responded in the 27th minute after a breakdown of the Sounders back line. Sambueza found himself with a wide-open look on the left side of the box, but his shot thumped off the underside of the crossbar and out of danger.
The Sounders trotted out a first-choice lineup for their first competitive game of the new year, less than two weeks ahead of the MLS regular season opener. That group included nine holdovers from 2015 and two newcomers – Morris and offseason trade pickup Joevin Jones, who started at left back – and offered another look at what the team’s new 4-3-3 formation will look like when the team opens MLS play against Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink on March 6.