Another furious CCL comeback falls just short
By Michael Ligot
TORREÓN, MEXICO — It was much better than last year’s blowout, and it almost repeated the shocking comeback of last month. But the end result was more tragedy in Torreón for the Seattle Sounders FC.
Substitute Lamar Neagle’s game-leveling goal struck up a frantic final quarter-hour, but the Sounders couldn’t get the clinching second road goal against Mexico’s Santos Laguna. Result: a 1-1 tie on the night, and a 2-1 aggregate victory for the green-and-white hoops in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series. Santos will return to the CCL championship series, which it lost to fellow Mexican side Monterey last year.
A defensive brain cramp led to Santos’ first goal. Salvadorian referee Joel Aguilar — the man in charge of the snowy USA-Costa Rica spectacle, incidentally — issued a caution to Zack Scott for a needless takedown of Herculez Gomez on a harmless ball a good ten yards in front of the area.
Carlos Quintero’s ensuing free kick hit the underside of the crossbar and into the net, but the ball moved downward so fast and so close to the line, Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning and the rest of the players thought it had bounced harmlessly back into play. Gomez eliminated any potential goalline-technology controversy by sprinting past the stunned Seattle backline and burying the rebound before Gspurning could respond. The American national team star was originally given the goal, but eventually Quintero received official credit.
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid introduced Mauro Rosales and Neagle for Mario Martínez and a hobbled Eddie Johnson within minutes of each other, and Neagle followed Gomez’s example of following up on a play.
He bumped off much-beefier Panamanian defender Felipe Baloy on the right touchline and sliced inside. Steve Zakuani picked up a pass and took a shot on Osvaldo Sánches. It was stopped, but Neagle, who had continued his run, scooped up the rebound and put it away.
That pulled Seattle within a goal of tying the match on aggregate, a goal which would also have given the Sounders the series win on away goals 2-1. Santos had won the first leg 1-0 in Seattle.
Mexican-American Sammy Ochoa was introduced by Seattle a few minutes later for an all-out assault for the clinching goal, and the Sounders nearly pulled it off a few times.
After a disallowed goal on Santos’ Oribe Peralta for offside, Djimi Traoré nearly headed home a Rosales corner. Gomez then almost restored Santos’ game and two-goal aggregate lead. The Sounders got another juicy opportunity in the four minutes of stoppage time, but Neagle’s header off Scott’s lengthy throw-in also went wide. A minute later, Aguilar called the end of the match.
The Sounders thus missed repeating the comeback win over another Mexican club, Tigres, in the quarterfinal round. But that 3-2 aggregate win could be qualified by Tigres’ essentially reserve team playing a man down in CenturyLink Field.
A comeback in Torreón would have been against a full-strength Santos side, their Portuguese coach Pedro Caixinha not taking chances, and in front of a hostile Estadio Nuevo Corona crowd in sweltering 95-degree Fahrenheit temperatures. It also would have avenged last year’s 6-1 second-leg debacle in that same stadium, where the Sounders just needed a scoreless draw to advance from the quarterfinal series.
Seattle wasn’t blown out this time, and in fact nearly became MLS’ second CCL finalist in three years after Real Salt Lake’s 2011 attempt. But they couldn’t quite get that second goal, and their record run in the continental tournament comes to an end.
1) Santos Laguna, Quintero 21
2) Seattle, Neagle 74′
Santos: Sánchez; Baloy, Galindo, Estrada, Mares; Salinas, Rodriguez, Calderón (Ramirez 64′), Gomez; Peralta, Quintero (Cárdenas 89′).
Seattle: Gspurning; González, Traoré, Scott, Yedlin; Joseph, Alonso, Zakuani (Ochoa 77′), Martínez (Rosales 59′); Johnson (Neagle 61′), Caskey.
Officials: referee Aguilar (SLV), referee’s assistants Torres and Zumba, fourth official Bonilla.