Earning a tie in Mexico is no small feat. In the CONCACAF Champions League-era, just a handful of MLS teams have avoided losing on the road against Mexican teams. The Sounders' 1-1 tie with Santos Laguna on Tuesday improved MLS's record to 2-13-3 on the road. The only team before the Sounders to earn any kind of road result in the knockout stage was Real Salt Lake's tie against Monterrey in the finals of the 2010-11 tournament.
Of course, a tie was not enough in this case. There really are no "moral victories" in a knockout tournament and the Sounders are heading home, essentially the same way Toronto FC did last year after getting drubbed 6-2.
Given that, there were some encouraging signs. For all the stick Sigi Schmid gets for his supposed tactical failings, he game-planned this one almost perfectly. The Sounders created enough chances early on to force Santos Laguna to have to work and his team was in position to take advantage late. We can only imagine would might have been if the Sounders had a fully fit lineup, but the win was there for the taking.
Sammy Ochoa, Djimi Traore and Lamar Neagle all had reasonably good looks at scoring the game-winner, but each was missing that final touch. At the very least, this feels like something the Sounders can build off as they can now focus on league play.
SAN - Carlos Quintero 21'
SEA - Lamar Neagle 73'
Seattle Sounders FC - Michael Gspurning, DeAndre Yedlin, Zach Scott, Djimi Traore, Leo Gonzalez, Alex Caskey, Osvaldo Alonso, Shalrie Joseph, Mario Martinez (Mauro Rosales 59), Steve Zakuani (Sammy Ochoa 77), Eddie Johnson (Lamar Neagle 61).
Substitutes Not Used: Marcus Hahnemann, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Marc Burch, Andy Rose.
TOTAL SHOTS: 19 (Joseph, Neagle 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (5 players, 1); FOULS: 13 (Caskey, Scott 2); OFFSIDE: 0; CORNER KICKS: 8 (Caskey, Martinez 3); SAVES: 1 (Gspurning 1).
Santos Laguna - Oswaldo Sanchez, Jorge Ivan Estrada, Felipe Baloy, Aaron Galindo, Osmar Mares, Rodolfo Salinas, Juan Pablo Rodriguez, Nester Calderon (Candido Ramirez 64), Herculez Gomez, Oribe Peralta, Carlos Quintero (Mario Cardenas 89).
Substitutes Not Used: Oswaldo Alanis, Marc Crosas, Edgar Lugo, Rafael Figueroa, Julio Gonzalez, Cesar Ibanez.
TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (3 players, 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 2 (Calderon, Quintero 1); FOULS: 8 (Baloy, Peralta 2); OFFSIDE: 5 (Gomez, Peralta 2); CORNER KICKS: 2 (Mares 1); SAVES: 4 (Sanchez 4).
SEA - Zach Scott (caution) 20'
SEA - Mauro Rosales (caution) 66'
Referee: Joel Aguilar
Referee's Assistants: William Torres, Juan Francisco Zumba
4th Official: Elmer Bonilla
Time of Game: 1:53
Weather: Sunny and 90 degrees
Sigi Schmid - Sounders FC Coach
(On the game...) "Obviously we learned from last year, and that's an important thing. You have to continue to learn and improve. We put ourselves in a position to advance, which was also very good. I think the character that we showed tonight and that we played with, being down at halftime one-nothing was no different that our situation was against Tigres. We knew we needed to score just two goals to advance, not three, and the guys battled. We put ourselves in a position where we could have advanced and won it. Our finishing needed to be better, but I'm proud of our quality and the effort we put in tonight."
(On fighting back...) "It shows that we have character. It shows that we've closed the gap. But in the game today we had chances in the first half to take the lead before they scored on the free kick, and the free kick to me was a little bit of a harsh call, but still the guy hits a great free kick and they score. We had chances, and right now the onus is on our guys to finish their chances. We haven't finished chances well enough, and we have to do a better job of that and it'll make game easier. It's a lot easier to play up one-nothing than it is to play down one-nothing, and it seems like we've been perpetually down. So you have to play with a lot of character, which is tremendous, but you don't always want to play in that situation."
(On Seattle's defensive play...) "For the most [I was happy]. They're a dangerous team and they created chances. I thought in the first half we gave [Carlos] Quintero too much room. I thought in the second half we did a much better job of bottling him up. [Oribe] Peralta is a handful. From that standpoint I thought we were okay. They're the kind of team that we know have enough quality up front up front that they're going to create some things. We also knew that we could create some things, as well."
(On any adjustments Seattle made...) "Today we played Steve Zakuani as a second forward, which is a position we haven't played him at this year. I thought he had some really, really good looks. We felt that Mario [Martinez] was tiring, so Mauro [Rosales] would be a good addition. I thought Mauro came in and gave us some energy. I thought Lamar [Neagle] came in and gave us energy up front. We wanted to go with a little more speed up front. That's why we came with them first. Then we wanted to get some size in there, too, with Sammy [Ochoa]-someone that could challenge for some balls in the air, and Sammy almost pulled off that header. A lot of our substitutions worked out well that way. We weren't sure if Shalrie [Joseph] could get through the 90 minutes because he's still getting fit, but he was able to play through the 90 minutes really well."
(On Lamar Neagle...) "He'd been training a little bit better. He didn't have a good reserve game the last time he played, but he'd been training better. We just felt that his speed would be something that could help us and his energy was something that we felt we needed at that point."
(On having a quick turnaround before returning to MLS play...) "We know what our position is in league. We're not stupid. We can read the papers and we can look at the standings. Last year, we were very good about coming out after a Champions League game and winning or getting a result on the weekend, and we have to do the same thing. The guys are down a little bit because they're disappointed, but now we've got to give our full concentration to the league. It's not how we start, it's how we finish. If we show this effort and this character, I think we'll get the results that we need. Again, we've got to put away chances. We can do everything we want about creating chances, but if we don't put them away it's not going to help us.
Lamar Neagle - Sounders FC Midfielder
(On the goal...) "It was a good ball over the top. Going in I knew their defenders were going to be a little tired with the heat and they've had a few games in the past week. My job was just to work and I had a good ball over the top, I saw Steve [Zakuani] on the other side, and I got the fortunate bounce off the goalie."
(On playing up top with Steve Zakuani...) "I knew coming on that Eddie [Johnson] has had a few games in the last few weeks and had some injuries and stuff. So I knew I was going to play similar to a David Estrada, just working and running and making those runs maybe Steve is too tired to make at that point in the game-it's late in the game with the heat-just trying to make anything work."
(On the mentality of the team throughout the match...) "Going into it we knew it was a great opportunity for us, to even kick-start MLS play-we haven't been doing too well-to get ourselves going. During the game I thought we started well, we had a few chances that we could have finished, just like the first game, and we were unfortunate not to finish them. Then they end up scoring a goal and they had their bit of play in the game, and towards the end we knew we were going to be running and gunning for goals."
(On playing to a draw against one of the top team's in Mexico...) "Losing always makes it kind of bitter. It is nice to realize where U.S. Soccer is going and we can come down here and get a goal and get a tie like that, but we were definitely coming in here looking for a win."
(On moving on to Saturday's game against New England...) "We just have to keep going with it. We realize MLS is a whole new tournament, so we have to start playing well and start scoring goals and start playing our game."
Osvaldo Alonso - Sounders FC Midfielder
(On the game...) "I think we played pretty good. Disappointed with the result, but now we have to focus on MLS and forget about what happened tonight and focus on the game in Seattle."
(On carrying momentum over to MLS play...) "It's always tough to come here to Santos and play against a Mexican team that's pretty good. We have to take this game and show Saturday that we can do it in MLS."
(On the coach's halftime message...) "We came here to score two goals. One-zero is the same for us. Sigi said we just have to come out and score two goals to advance to the final."
Mauro Rosales- Sounders FC Midfielder
(On the game...) "I'm very proud of what the guys did tonight. We're obviously disappointed about the final result, but we are very proud of how we stepped on this field. Even knowing this was a powerful team we were playing against, we stepped in and played the same way we play at CenturyLink, with the same mentality, with the same character, and I'm just very proud of that. We were very close, but we know that it was not enough getting close to the final. We dreamed about being in the final in this competition because it was very important to us as players and it was something we wanted so badly. I just wanted to say that I'm very proud of the boys today and how hard we worked today to get the result."
(On the progress the team has made...) "Even though we knew that they're a powerful team from Mexico, and we stepped on the field and we did a great job. We played very hard against them, we battled, we fought. We had everything we needed to defeat them, and it was a pity that we didn't. In the last 10 minutes we had a few chances to score, and we're just disappointed we didn't get it."
(On how Neagle's goal changed the game...) "The belief was there since minute one. I think we could've scored in the first half, I think we had enough chances to score at least one goal, but this is soccer. We couldn't score every chance that we create. They're also a very good team-very sharp, lots of good players on the field. That was an issue to play against them, but we did the job we had to do. Obviously the progress we've had since last year's competition till now, making the semifinals and almost the final, playing always with the best teams in Mexico-it's something that we have to be proud of and also learn about everything we did tonight and try to bring this mentality to the MLS. Now we have to focus on this and try to start winning games. I think what we showed today is the same character we have to show Saturday against New England."
Eddie Johnson - Sounders FC Forward
(On the game...) "I thought it was difficult game, but I thought we created chances. We had some good chances early on in the first half, and goals change games. We didn't put those chances away and the longer you let the team stay in the game the more difficult it is for us, but we showed some character. The guys that came on-Lamar Neagle came on and made a difference. You want guys who can come off the bench and make a difference, and he came in and got a goal. [Mauro] Rosales, his play out wide, he put some good balls in and caused a lot of trouble on their back four. It was a good game by us, but unfortunately we conceded a goal and one goal wasn't enough."
(On the halftime message...) "He said we've had chances, and if we're going to get chances they're going to get tired-they had a game over the weekend-and that they were going to fatigue. It did show in the second half, even watching the game from the sideline when I came out. They were tired and were able to push the game and have some fresh legs on, and the guys that came on made a difference."
(On carrying today's positives over to league play...) "We can just take what we got out of this game and, as football players, get better and be consistent in each game we play. Like I said, we're out of the CONCACAF Champions League and now we can focus more on the league. The guys are really looking forward to the game this weekend."