SEATTLE — Needing three goals in a half to avoid elimination, Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid gave his team some advice he heard years ago from an assistant coach.
But first Schmid let his players have it while using “a lot of words that I can’t repeat here.” After calming down, Schmid echoed the words of a former UCLA assistant, who liked to say, “You’ve got to dare to be brilliant. You can’t be brilliant if you don’t try it.”
And brilliant the Sounders were in the second half. They scored three times to beat Mexico’s Tigres UANL 3-1 on Tuesday night to take the two-match, aggregate-goal series 3-2 and advance to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. The result makes Seattle the first MLS team to knock off a Mexican team in the knockout stages of the tournament, which crowns the club champion of North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Scoring three goals in a half would have been impressive regardless of the quality of those goals, but as it turned out, Seattle’s comeback was sparked by two remarkable strikes from distance by defenders DeAndre Yedlin and Djimi Traore. Forward Eddie Johnson capped off the comeback with a first-rate goal of his own, scoring from a tough angle in the 75th minute to cap one of the most impressive comebacks in franchise history.
“We were pretty disappointed (at halftime), but it was positive,” said Yedlin, a 19-year-old rookie from Shoreline who made his first Sounders goal a memorable one. “I think that was good for us going into the second half, and obviously it showed. Sigi just told us to stay positive and we had nothing to lose. We could make history. Go out, score three goals, that’s all we needed to do and we did it.”
Seattle came into the night trailing 1-0 on aggregate after losing to Tigres in Monterrey, Mexico, last week. The Sounders fell behind by two goals when Elias Hernandez scored in the 23rd minute. Because away goals serve as the tiebreaker in Champions League play, the Sounders didn’t just need to score twice to tie things up, they needed three goals.
The Sounders caught a break just before halftime when Tigres’ Manuel Viniegra received his second yellow card in an eight-minute span, giving Seattle a one-man advantage while chasing goals in the second half.
Playing up a man allowed Schmid to change things tactically with Yedlin, normally a right back, to push up and play as an extra midfielder. Having Yedlin up paid off in the 53rd minute when, on a cleared corner kick, he lined up a volley from 30 yards out, and hit a shot on target that took a slight deflection before finding the net.
“I saw it floating up and I tried to get the right timing on it,” Yedlin said. “Luckily, I got a good hit. It took a deflection and went in. It was good. Very good.”
Very good indeed, but even Yedlin had to concede that Traore one-upped him in the 60th minute. Traore, a center back who doesn’t get a lot of scoring chances, had a clearance land at his feet about 35 yards from the goal, and when no defenders closed out on him, he decided to try an ambitious strike, and he couldn’t have hit the ball any better. The shot went just over the outstretched hand of Tigres keeper Jorge Diaz de Leon, hit off the underside of the crossbar, then went into the goal.
“When I saw the space in front of me,” he said. “I saw nobody come to close me down. If you don’t try, you never score that kind of goal, so that’s what I did.”
To avoid wasting those two impressive strikes, however, Seattle needed a third goal, and Johnson was able to provide it in the 75th minute when he took a through ball from Steve Zakuani down the left sideline, then somehow managed to squeeze a shot between de Leon and the near post.
The Sounders now await the winner of tonight’s quarterfinal between the Houston Dynamo and Santos Laguna. Houston won the first leg 1-0, but now has to play at Santos, a team that beat Seattle 6-1 at home last season in the Champions League quarterfinals.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.