Seattle Sounders faithful knew that it was a huge mountain to climb, but for a large part of Wednesday night’s road match against potent CF Monterrey, it appeared as if a gigantic upset was in the making.
Seattle had grabbed a 2-0 halftime lead against the favorites and did a good job of withstanding numerous Monterrey charges for a good part of the second half.
Ultimately, though, the form chart prevailed and Group C leader CF Monterrey answered with three goals in a swift and decisive four-minute span as Seattle lost 3-2, in round four of the CONCACAF Champions League group stage at Estadio Tecnologico on Wednesday night.
The match drew 19,617 spirited fans who continued to loudly sing and cheer for the home team throughout the evening’s play.
The teams began and ended play as mirror image reversals of one another. Monterrey stands atop Group C standings with a spotless 4-0 mark and 12 points, a cinch to advance to the quarterfinal round.
Seattle sits at the bottom of the ladder at 0-4 with two more opportunities to break out of the winless column, both of which are at home at the X-Box Pitch of Qwest Field.
In earlier CONCACAF play, Seattle had been shut out 2-0 by Monterrey at home, so it had to have been a joyous double boost for coach Sigi Schmid to see his charges field a lineup consisting of numerous young players take a 2-0 lead while playing with great spirit.
"We played a lot of our young players today,” Schmid said after the match. “We wanted to give them a look. I think we have been a little bit unlucky in CONCACAF. We should have probably won at Marathon. Without the red card at Saprissa we would have done much better. We had a bad 10 minutes today. But certainly we are still a young team in the second year of existence as a franchise. We learn every time we play together. We want to be back next year in CONCACAF and we will do much better."
Schmid’s concluding comment is worth careful scrutiny. The positive message gleaned from a loss against a dominant Latin soccer power reveals that Seattle has some fine young talent. While the closing phase revealed the mistakes of youth learning while on the rise, the future looks bright in building a winning franchise.
Earlier in the season during an injury phase, Seattle raised eyebrows by starting a midfield crew that averaged 21 years of age against FC Dallas.
Opposing coach Schellas Hyndman said following a 1-1 tie, “More power to Sigi. He has talent and he knows how to coach young players.”
Schmid was disappointed by the fact that his team was unable to hold its lead, exclaiming, “Obviously we are disappointed that we were up two-nothing and when you are up two-nothing you should never give the game away, so we are disappointed...I was disappointed with how we performed in the last 30 minutes of the game."
One bright note was the start and positive play of youthful former Harvard All-American Mike Fucito making his professional debut at midfield.
Fucito was returning from an injury that has sidelined him during most of the MLS campaign. He had earlier become the sixth player in MLS history by scoring his first career goal in his initial start in overtime as his winner pushed the Sounders past Kansas City, 1-0.
The returning Fucito had a hand in both Seattle first half goals. The initial tally was ruled an own-goal after Fucito forced the issue and was the score’s catalyst. Seattle emerged on the scoreboard in the 27th minute when Fucito struck a right-footed shot that deflected off Monterrey's Hiram Ricardo Mier into the back of the net and was ruled an own-goal.
A steadily pressing Fucito returned for more as Sounders FC extended its lead in the 44th minute. Nate Jaqua took a ball from Alvaro Fernandez and played Fucito into the box. Fucito poked the ball with the outside of his right foot and beat keeper Jonathan Orozco.
The scored remained that way until the emergence of Chilean national star and prolific striker Humberto Suazo emerged in the 61st minute, replacing William Paredes. Monterrey’s 29-year-old star put his team on the board in the 74th minute. It came after Terry Boss stopped a shot from Suazo, but Aldo De Nigris headed the rebound past Boss.
One minute later Suazo was once more knocking on the Sounders’ door. Suazo beat Boss from 18 yards out with a right-footed shot to the far corner.
The match’s clincher came in the 77th minute. A hard-charging Suazo was being defended by veteran back line performer Tyrone Marshall, who was seeking to take him outside away from the goal.
As Boss emerged, Marshall shouted for him to back off, but it was too late and the Seattle goalkeeper made contact with the streaking Suazo and was whistled for a foul in the box. Perez stepped up and knocked the penalty kick past Boss for the club's third goal in four minutes.
The emergence and swift results from the determined Suazo recalled a comment made by Schmid following Seattle’s earlier home setback against Monterrey. “Their forwards make a lot more money than ours do,” Schmid said, certainly taking note of Suazo in that select category.
Boss made five saves in his third competitive start, including a masterly tip save on William Paredes' header in the 39th minute.
Monterrey held the edge in shots. The count was 15-11 overall in Monterrey’s favor. To show the pressure that the Seattle defense endured, the on-goal advantage for the home team was an impressive 8-3 on goal.
Mike Fucito put the experience in perspective. "Every time you come down here it is difficult to play,” he said. “I think it's definitely a good learning experience. I thought we did a lot well, so it's a little bit frustrating. I think it was just a couple minute lapse that was the difference. We will take the positive things from this. I think there's some stuff that tactically we need to work on and make sure that we are concentrating for 90 minutes."
The Sounders have lost three matches this season on quick surge attacks. In addition to Monterrey, Seattle was overwhelmed by swift strike attacks in an embarrassing 4-0 loss to the L.A. Galaxy at home and recently on Sept. 4 with a 3-1 setback on the road against the New England Revolution.
The frequent flier Sounders must quickly regroup and focus again on MLS play. The team stands at 10-9-6 with 36 points. On Saturday, Seattle visits the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park in Bridgeville, Ill. at 5 p.m. PT, facing its former star midfielder Freddie Ljungberg.