The Seattle Sounders lost 1-0 to Egypt’s Al Ahly SC on a late, heartbreaking deflected goal from substitute Mohamed Afsha. Seattle more than held their own as the first MLS team to ever compete in the Club World Cup, creating several promising chances in Saturday’s first half. But in the crucial moments the shots weren’t falling and the passes weren’t connecting.
The two sides went into halftime level, with the Sounders having looked like the team most likely to find a goal.
In the second half, the Sounders seemed to slow down as the difference in fitness between a team coming off of a four-week preseason and a team 15 games into their regular season started to show. Al Ahly made a triple sub, including bringing on the eventual game-winner, just over an hour into the game while Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer did his best to try to get as much as he could out of his starting lineup. He brought on João Paulo in the 68th, but didn’t make another sub until the 84th minute when he took a gassed Cristian Roldan off and replaced him with Danny Leyva. Four minutes later Al Ahly scored and the Sounders were suddenly chasing.
One last roll of the dice was made as Héber made his debut alongside Fredy Montero, replacing Jackson Ragen and Albert Rusnák, but neither player had much of an opportunity to change the game. Ultimately Seattle’s first-ever involvement at the Club World Cup is a single game, but you have to start somewhere.
14’ — Nico Lodeiro earns a free kick from 25 yards out. Albert Rusnák puts the initial attempt into the wall, and Lodeiro’s follow-up is well hit but a yard wide of the goal.
24’ — After some great work to release Jordan Morris down the field the Sounders earn a corner. The service slips through to Morris at the back post, but takes him by surprise and it’s out for a goal kick.
35’ — The finishing boots still haven’t arrived as the Sounders create another good chance, this time with Lodeiro flicking the ball along for Rusnák, but his shot slices away from goal.
69’ — Al Ahly’s first really good look comes as Mohamed Aisha gets off a shot from the top of the box, but his attempt fizzes just wide of Stefan Frei’s post.
88’ — Al Ahly take the lead. After a giveaway and a shot off the bar, the follow up takes a big deflection off of Alex Roldan to put it out of Frei’s reach. 1-0 Al Ahly
Chemistry coming through: The Sounders got a very short preseason before this game, and they’re facing off against a good team in the middle of the season. The Sounders didn’t let that slow them down, though. This group has been playing together for years. Albert Rusnák was the shortest-tenured member of the Starting XI, and even he has a full season under his belt as a locked-in starter, and that familiarity within the squad shown through as the Sounders repeatedly executed intricate passing sequences and hit through balls knowing exactly where a runner would arrive. This team looks good already, and they’ll only get better from here.
Promising returns: The biggest, most notable return from this game was the return of João Paulo from his ACL injury. Not quite nine months after he went down in the CCL Final, JP played his first competitive game as a substitute in the Club World Cup. There’s still some rust to shake off, and a little way to go before he’s back to full fitness, but it was great to see Our Brazilian back on the field. In a lesser sense, Josh Atencio also made a return with this game. Atencio started and eventually subbed off for JP, and he showed really well in his 68 minutes. Atencio’s return was more a return to his path of ascent from 2021 that was interrupted by injury. He played 841 minutes with the first team in 2022, but wasn’t quite at the same level as when he burst onto the scene the year before. This game seemed like he’d finally taken the next step in his development, which bodes well for his and the Sounders future.
The goals will come (probably): The Sounders aren’t “effectively in preseason” as you may have heard the commentators or other folks say. Would they, under more normal circumstances, still be in preseason at this point? Sure, but these aren’t normal circumstances. The Sounders went to the Club World Cup, they went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in Africa and they looked like the better team for a good portion of the game. They created more chances, taking 12 shots to Al Ahly’s 9, and took half of those from inside the area, but there’s clearly some work to be done before the Sounders are operating at their peak capacity. As the MLS season approaches the team will get better, the passing and runs sharper, and the goals will come.
Did you see that?!?
In case you’d forgotten, João Paulo is back!
The first substitution of the match for the @SoundersFC comes in the 68th minute as João Paulo replaces Joshua Atencio! pic.twitter.com/QmbcVKIwZB— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) February 4, 2023
One stat to tell the tale
1 — Only 1 MLS team has ever participated in the Club World Cup: The Seattle Sounders. Don’t lose sight of that.
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