Every season has to start somewhere, right? The Seattle Sounders started their 2022 season in earnest with a 0-0 draw away against F.C. Motagua in the opening leg of the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 tie. The game did happen, although if you forgot what day it was or that CCL is a thing then you didn’t miss much. It was readily apparent that the Sounders group hadn’t spent much time together with so many players unavailable for much of preseason due to international duty, green card-related delays, or any number of other reasons.
Players weren’t quite on the same page when it came to attacking movements, passes weren’t quite dialed in and fine-tuned, and defensive rotations were occasionally just a smidge off. They didn’t give up a goal, though, marking the first time the Sounders have kept a clean sheet on the road in Champions League play since they famously beat Monterrey in 2011, so that’s hardly nothing.
There were other positives as well — things that will likely matter more in the long-term than how the team looked while still very much looking to be in preseason form — like good, lengthy shifts from Jordan Morris and Nico Lodeiro. Lodeiro playing 64 minutes after a injury-plagued 2021 is a particularly good sign. The front four of Raúl Ruidíaz, Morris, Lodeiro, and Albert Rusnák showed flashes of the skill and ability that should make them one of, if not the best attacking group in the league, but ultimately the end product was lacking. Seattle will host Motagua for the second leg on Feb. 24 with a place in the quarterfinals on the line.
9’ — Raúl Ruidíaz lets loose a shot from the top of Motagua’s penalty area after a little interchange with Jordan Morris, but it’s easily handled by the goalkeeper.
13’ — Motagua get the best chance so far when a corner comes off of a Sounders player to fall at the feet of an attacker at the mouth of goal, but the attempt goes off the crossbar.
22’ — Nico Lodeiro is played into the area by Morris before cutting the ball back from near the end line to Albert Rusnák, but the first-time shot is just off target.
43’ — An outstanding pass from Obed Vargas at the midfield stripe as he gets chopped down finds Jordan Morris, whose cross towards the penalty spot is sent out for a corner.
70’ — Obed Vargas goes for a dribble into the Motagua box, moving through a developing crowd, but the eventual shot isn’t enough to cause much trouble.
There’s only one cure for rust: The Sounders — and this might surprise some readers — looked a bit rusty against Motagua. They weren’t without their moments, but the short preseason showed. Maybe the lack of preseason game time with the whole group on the field together was most evident in set-piece situations. Motagua’s best chances seemed to come primarily from corners, where players seemed to struggle to track runners or the ball, while attacking set-pieces for the Sounders lacked rhythm or precision in both the service and the runs. It will get better as the team continues to train and play together, but that’s little comfort during these first few games.
Alaska’s finest: Obed Vargas, the 16-year-old from Anchorage, Alaska, started in midfield alongside Cristian Roldan. While he may not have put on a star performance, he certainly showed why the organization has been so high on his potential and Brian Schmetzer felt comfortable starting him in the first meaningful game of the season with players like João Paulo, Josh Atencio and Danny Leyva unavailable. Vargas never showed a lack of effort or willingness on either side of the ball, frequently popping up to make life more difficult for Motagua players. He may have been most impressive when the Sounders were in possession, though, hitting a couple of outstanding passes and making confident runs with the ball at his feet when the space was there for the taking. As other players reach full fitness he’s sure to start fewer games, but if this is an example of what’s to come from Obed Vargas we should all feel pretty good about it when we do see him in the lineup.
Defensive stability: It’s probably fair to say that the players who had the best games for the Sounders in this one were Xavier Arreaga and Yeimar. Although Motagua got off a fair number of shots and created danger from corners in particular, seemingly every moment of danger either seemed to land in Stefan Frei’s arms or fizzle out when faced with Seattle’s first-choice centerbacks. Neither player had to put in a single tackle, but they were routinely in the right place at the right time to break up attacks. The lack of turnover in the Seattle roster has been noted by plenty of folks whose job it is to talk about and analyze these sorts of things, but keeping the CB pairing of Arreaga and Yeimar intact is likely to pay dividends this year and in the future.
He said what?!?
Stefan Frei on the shutout: Of course, we’d have taken a W, but to come down here and have arguably the better chances we’ll take that. There were some good things to take away from that. We were able to possess the ball at the end and get them tired. That was nice to see.”
One stat to tell the tale
3,831 — The Sounders had gone 3,831 days since they last kept a road CCL shutout, the last one coming on Aug. 23, 2011 against Monterrey.
Man of the match
This poll is closed