The passage of time will lend a rather undeserved gloss to Sounders FC's 3-2 aggregate victory over the Liga MX leaders.
Manuel Viniegra's moment of madness on the stroke of halftime changed the course of the proceedings and paved the way for Seattle's spirited three-goal response in the second half.
The take-home point in the wake of this enthralling comeback against 10-man Tigres: Seattle now enters the record books as the first MLS team to eliminate a Mexican side during the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Champions League.
(Note: Although Seattle is the first team to achieve such success in the Champions League era, it is not the first MLS side to dump a Mexican outfit out of this competition over two legs. Kansas City claimed a 3-2 aggregate victory over Santos Laguna in the quarterfinals of the 2002 CONCACAF Champions Cup.)
Seattle deserves ample credit for mustering the necessary reply after the interval. The circumstances required three goals and the home side went in search of them ardently. Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid switched to a 3-5-2 setup to push into the space afforded by Viniegra's second bookable offense (needlessly procured for kicking the ball away at midfield) and stop Tigres from dictating terms in possession as it did in the first half.
Even with those adjustments making their mark, the first two goals occurred through ambition and quality on shots from distance rather than incisiveness in the final third. DeAndre Yedlin atoned for his role in the Tigres opener – the fullback drifted out of position and lost out on a physical battle before Alberto Acosta's low cross prompted Elias Hernández's simple finish – by uncorking a spectacular equalizer seven minutes after play resumed. Djimi Traore somehow outdid the rookie's deflected effort on the hour with a thumping shot off the underside of the crossbar to further fuel belief in the fightback.
Seattle searched for the third for an additional 15 minutes, and the winner eventually arrived with a quarter of an hour to spare. Eddie Johnson latched onto Steve Zakuani's vertical ball down the left, meandered around the corner and somehow squeezed his effort inside Jorge Alberto Díaz de León's near post to send the home crowd into delirium.
Tigres created a few problems in the waning stages as Seattle buckled down to protect its lead. Alán Pulido probably should have nicked the vital second goal in second-half stoppage time, but his heart-stopping effort just missed the near post to send Sounders FC through to a semifinal meeting with either Houston or Santos Laguna.
On merit over the course of the two legs, Seattle probably did not warrant that late reprieve. Sounders FC fell well short of the required standard in the first leg and sputtered inexplicably in the first half at home against a side filled with a couple of established figures and a raft of reserves. A second match against the Tigres first-team or a second half against 11 Tigres reserves at CenturyLink Field would have likely ushered Seattle out of the competition with a minimum of fuss.
But those realities ultimately yielded to a final result that proves more heartening. Seattle improved substantially in the second half to take advantage of Viniegra's dearth of composure and secured this landmark Champions League victory for MLS over a Liga MX foe. In the final accounting, the outcome will ultimately matter far more than how it was achieved.
Santos Laguna – Houston (Wednesday, 8:00p.m., FOX Soccer): The perennial MLS Cup contenders travel to Torreón with a slender one-goal advantage after the first leg at BBVA Compass Stadium. Brad Davis' late winner a week ago could prove crucial, but the clean sheet will likely prove more influential if the Dynamo can nab an away goal here. Santos will field a much stronger side than Tigres did at CenturyLink Field. The Liga MX side will hope its regulars can replicate the home results achieved against MLS sides in this competition last year – a 6-1 win over Seattle in the quarterfinals and a 6-2 result over Toronto FC in the season – in order to book a place in the semifinals.
Los Angeles – C.S. Herediano (Wednesday, 10:00p.m., FOX Soccer): A tumultuous first leg in Costa Rica failed to produce a goal for either side. The return encounter at the Home Depot Center hands the Galaxy a genuine chance to compensate for its defeat to Toronto FC at this stage of the competition last season. Bruce Arena's side must focus on safety first – conceding a goal will force the Galaxy to score at least two to go through – and lean on its superior quality to arrange a semifinal tie with two-time defending champion Monterrey (4-2 winner on aggregate over Guatemalan side Xelajú after a 1-1 draw at Estadio Tecnológico on Tuesday night).
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