By John Boyle Herald Writer
Was it the ideal result? Hardly.
Will Sounders FC take it? Absolutely.
Playing the opening leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal, the Sounders lost to Tigres UANL 1-0 Wednesday night at Estadio Universitario in Monterrey, Mexico. And while Seattle obviously would have preferred to open the home-and-away, aggregate-goal series with a victory, or even a tie, losing by only one goal on the road against the first-place team in Mexico’s Liga MX was far from a disastrous result. Especially considering how much worse it could have been.
Tigres, which plays at Seattle Tuesday, dominated possession throughout the night and had almost all of the game’s scoring chances, but thanks to a strong performance by goalkeeper Michael Gspurning — and yes, a little bit of good fortune — the game was scoreless at halftime.
Seattle needs two-goal victory Tuesday to assure a spot in the semifinals, or they could force extra time and a possible shootout with a 1-0 win at home. Away goals serve as the first tiebreaker in the Champions League format, so Tigres would advance with any one-goal loss that involved them scoring in Seattle.
“A little disappointing, always a loss is disappointing, but 1-0 is not bad,” said midfielder Osvaldo Alonso. “We have a chance in Seattle to win this thing. It’s going to be tough, but we have a chance to win it. … It’s always tough to play here in Mexico, they have a good team, but we play at home next week, so we hope to win the series.”
And “only” losing by one goal wasn’t an acceptable result just because of the way Wednesday’s game played out, but also because of Seattle’s road history in two-leg, aggregate-goal series. When the Sounders reached the Champions League quarterfinals last year, they beat Santos Laguna 2-1 at home, but lost 6-1 when they traveled to Mexico a week later. And the Sounders have been eliminated from the MLS playoffs each of the past two years in large part because they dug themselves too big a hole to overcome when opening a series on the road, losing 3-0 in Salt Lake City in 2011 and by the same score in Los Angeles last year.
“We’re happy that we’re in a position that we can win this thing in Seattle,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid. “Obviously our history in the last two years in two-game series in the league, when you go down 3-0, I thought it was important. … that once we took that goal, we maintained our defensive integrity and made sure that we didn’t take another goal. That’s a mistake we’ve made in past games.”
The way Tigres was dominating the game early, it looked like Seattle might again find itself down big on the road, but the Monterrey club couldn’t turn its early dominance into goals. With the Sounders defense looking particularly shaky early in the game, Tigres nearly took the lead less than three minutes into the game, but Seattle defender Leo Gonzalez cleared a shot off the goal line to keep the game scoreless.
Tigres finally got its breakthrough in the 74th minute when Alan Pulido scored off of a rebound following a Gspurning save. The Sounders defense, expecting an offside call, had given up on the play, allowing for an uncontested shot by Pulido, who as it turns out was onside.
Yet as much as Seattle would have preferred to have kept the game scoreless, it was important to not let a one-goal deficit quickly turn into an insurmountable one.
“We dodged a few bullets,” Schmid said. “They had three really good chances in the first half… We were fortunate in there because they missed some chances they might normally score, but that’s part of the game too.
“To come here in a very difficult environment, a great atmosphere, a very supportive Tigres crowd, and to be able to have the character to do what we did tonight was important.”
The Sounders will have an advantage Tuesday not just because they are playing at home, but also because they’ll have the benefit of rest. While Major League Soccer gave a bye this weekend to its three teams involved in Champions League play, Tigres, which for the most part used their usual starters Wednesday night, has a league game on Saturday night.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.