The steady, heavy rain failed to dampen Seattle Sounders' spirits as a hard fought 1-1 tie at San Salvador’s Estadio Cuscatlan Tuesday night against host Metapan translated into an overall win.
It was a win because the U.S. and El Salvador teams were playing a two-game home and home series to see who advances to the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League preliminary series.
Last week in Seattle in the team’s first meeting of the series, the Sounders defeated Metapan 1-0 on a 40-yard blast by Fredy Montero.
With the 1-1 draw Tuesday, the Sounders secured the winning 2-1 aggregate advantage on overall goals scored.
On Tuesday and the week before, the deciding goals came after Seattle Coach Sigi Schmid made key second half substitutions.
Montero had been inserted into action in the final third of the contest and scored seconds after entering the pitch.
Tuesday night the new face on the Seattle roster, rangy Uruguayan Alvaro Fernandez, emerged as man of the hour with a nifty 10-yard header in the 73rd minute just nine minutes after entering the match.
It marked the first score of Fernandez’ Sounders career.
The score came on a superbly placed pass from defender James Riley, who provided great defense all evening in one of his finest career Sounder efforts.
Riley went down and was briefly injured late in the contest. A close look at him revealed what a tough contest it had been as he was covered in mud because of the incessant rain.
A Sounders team that thrives on rapid play might well have been adjusting to unfavorable elements in the first half as the action was pressed by Metapan.
Three of Kasey Keller’s four saves on the evening came in the first 45 minutes of play. Also, the Sounders did not get their first corner kick of the evening until early in the second half.
Veteran Metapan coach Edwin Portillo had said after the match in Seattle that circumstances made his team play a pressing attack game after failing to garner the tie on the road that it would take to go into the home contest the following week in at least an even status or perhaps better with the Sounders.
The home team rocked Seattle on its heels with an early goal, Metapan took the lead with a goal in the 17th minute.
Rodolfo Suarez chipped a cross from the end line that found Anel Canalez in the box. Canalez's header from six yards snuck inside the far post.
Sounders had a tough first half to say the least. It appeared initially that Roger Levesque had scored an equalizer.
In the 53rd minute, Levesque knocked in the rebound of Osvaldo Alonso's long-range shot, but the goal was disallowed due to offside.
It had been thought by many going into the contest that the Sounders had a solid chance of advancing to the next round of competition by scoring one goal, considering how solidly the team’s defense has been in recent weeks.
This view was validated as the newly acquired Fernandez became his team’s hero of the evening as the Sounders marched on after a determined effort on the slow traction, mud-splattered San Salvador pitch.
One positive Sounders string was broken on Tuesday, though.
This was the first time after eight successive games that red hot striker Fredy Montero had failed to either score or secure an assist.
Bolstered by an enhanced offensive second half performance, the Sounders secured an overall edge of 9-7 in shots and a 7-5 advantage on goal.
This included six second half shots on target. The statistical closeness verifies the tough, contested nature of the match.
Sounders FC is unbeaten in its last seven games in all competitions with a glowing 6-0-1 mark.
By virtue of Tuesday’s win, the Sounders join the group stage with Monterrey of Mexico, Saprissa of Costa Rica, and the winner of the preliminary round match-up between Tauro of Panama and Marathon of Honduras.
Marathon defeated Tauro, 3-0, on the road in the first leg. They meet again Wednesday.
Seattle returns home to resume MLS play when it hosts the Houston Dynamo Sunday night on the Xbox Pitch at Qwest Field.
Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.