SEATTLE — On paper, the Seattle Sounders’ quarterfinal matchup with Liga MX side Club Leon had everything a fan could want: Two high-profile teams with some genuine history. With last year’s Leagues Cup final loss still fresh, there was even the element of revenge to add to the narrative.
Still, for the Sounders, some of the luster has been taken off the match given the slow start in MLS league play. While CCL appearances and stuttering out of the gate go together like blue and green, it doesn’t do much for the confidence of players or psyche of fans.
Of course, nothing cures what ails you in sports like winning, so a victory in the first leg for the Sounders could be just the fuel to jump start Brian Schmetzer’s side.
Consider the Sounders fueled up for the road.
It was a 3-0 victory that was more than anyone could have expected, and the Sounders are now set up perfectly to advance to the semi-finals of the Champions League. Still, it could have been so much more. The Sounders executed their game plan almost perfectly, ceding possession but generating tons of chances through their press and transition play. It will likely be a different story on the road, and with a MLS match on the weekend, there are still concerns about the Sounders regular season start, but for now, the Sounders can revel in a job well done.
Chance creation gets Sounders going early
While the Sounders had not been entirely bereft of scoring opportunities in the opening two MLS matches, Schmetzer had all but conceded that the attack was lacking. And though the Sounders hung five on Motagua, León is a substantial step up in difficulty. So it was surely a relief for the Sounders, if nothing else, to know that they could create chances against high-level competition, to say nothing of converting them. They were credited with 3.2 expected goals and easily could have scored five or six with better finishing.
With much the attacking front line still on the sidelines, it fell once again to the Sounders’ all-time leading scorer to conjure up some magic. As good as Montero was at times last year, Father Time is both fickle and cruel, and he eventually collects. Tuesday wasn’t that day for Montero, who looked as lively as ever, bagging a brace with a clinical penalty to open the scoring and matching the quality with a close-range finish minutes later.
JP in midseason form
João Paulo was always likely to play his part against León and with Nico Lodeiro out with a pulled adductor, the Sounders’ 2021 MVP lived up to his billing. João Paulo was everywhere on the pitch, using his trademark hustle and determination to repeatedly break up León attacks. Not that his quality should get short shrift, as João Paulo incisive passing unlocked the León defense on more than one occasion.
Cristian Roldan was too
Not to be outdone, Cristian Roldan, the Sounders’ do-everything ironman, got the Sounders off and running midway through the first half with some hustle of his own, getting on the end of a what was mostly a speculative Jordan Morris cross from the end-line. Roldan was the first to the ball, and cleverly used his body to between the ball and Angel Mena, who needlessly shoved him to the ground. The penalty was a forgone conclusion. Roldan was also involved in the second and third tallies, sending in the crosses which were expertly finished by Montero and Morris, respectively. After the match Schmetzer marveled at Roldan’s performance, noting that his emotional energy and desire are what make him the player he is.
The attack shakes off some rust — eventually
As clinical as the Sounders were in the first half, they’d have been kicking themselves if they’d gone down to León with a 2-0 lead after a second half where chances were even more plentiful. Though few would complain about a 2-0 home victory, such leads in Mexico are more often more mirage than oasis. Between the start of the second half and the 73rd minute, the Sounders had at least six quality chances to score, but were denied either through quality saves or profligate finishing. So when Morris put away a pinpoint Cristian Roldan cross in the 90th minute to give the Sounders a third crucial home goal, there was likely a sigh of relief from the Sounders coaching staff. While crazy things happen in Mexico, 3-0 shutout gives the Sounders about as good of a chance of advancing as they could hope for.