SEATTLE - MARCH 07: David Estrada #16 of the Seattle Sounders FC is congratulated by teammates after scoring against goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez #1 of Santos Laguna at CenturyLink Field on March 7, 2012 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
The Seattle Sounders knew they needed to play one of their best games ever to beat Santos Laguna on Wednesday in the home leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal. While they weren't quite perfect, the Sounders were certainly close enough to it to pull out a 2-1 victory and head into the return leg with any number of possible ways to advance.
More impressive than the actual result, though, was the way they controlled large chunks of the game. Despite facing Santos Laguna's A-team -- and apparently have four players show up about half an hour before the scheduled kick off time -- the Sounders dominated the early portion of the game. That culminated with David Estrada's first goal in a competitive match in the 12th minute. On the goal, Fredy Montero lofted a perfectly placed ball to the far post that Estrada headed past Oswaldo Sanchez, Mexico's 99-time capped goalkeeper.
Although Los Guerreros seemed to find their rhythm shortly after that, they never fully wrested control away from the Sounders. The one exception may have been the sequence in which they found the equalizer. After holding onto possession for a couple minutes, Herculez Gomez was able to get inside position on Leo Gonzalez and deftly beat Michael Gspurning to the far post in the 61st minute.
Rather than fall apart, as we've seen the Sounders do on occasion, they roared back. Just two minutes later, Brad Evans muscled past his defender and appeared to hit Mauro Rosales' free kick into the goal off his shoulder. It was hardly the prettiest goal Evans has scored, but it counts just the same and was the exact kind of goal we knew the Sounders were going to have to score.
As desperate as Santos Laguna looked at that point, they never really seemed to regain their footing. They seemed to make up for their inability to dominate the Sounders with quick passing or quality ball-handling by turning surprisingly physical. This was a team that was clearly showing some frustrations.
The Sounders now prepare to head to Mexico knowing that a win or tie will send them through to the CCL semifinals. The only blemish from this game is that the goal they allowed means that a 1-0 loss would end their CCL season.
Aside from the score, there were plenty of other things to like. The Sounders offense looked slick and communicated well. Even ignoring the goals they scored, Estrada and Evans played their roles well. Adam Johansson did a better job of not exposing the Sounders to counter-attacks. Eddie Johnson looked impressively spry and looked goal-dangerous almost every time he touched the ball. This might just be a special season.