The Seattle Sounders traveled to Estadio León in Guanajuato, Mexico for the second leg of their quarterfinal matchup with León, and they did more than enough to secure their place in the Concacaf Champions League semifinals.
The Sounders were minutes from another historic win in Mexico, but a goal for León leveled the score for the night at 1-1 but it was most academic as it merely cut the aggregate-goal margin to 4-1.
That goal provided a bit of synchronicity to Fredy Montero’s penalty that opened the scoring in first-half stoppage time. The PK was earned by João Paulo, who both started the play with an excellent ball to send Kelyn Rowe into space, then received a drop pass from Jordan Morris before driving into the box and being brought down. Montero’s penalty was as excellent as we’ve come to expect from him, using a little shimmy and his body shape to send the goalkeeper the wrong way before finishing confidently to the right.
Although León did eventually find the back of the net, the Sounders backline held firm and made life incredibly difficult for the home team. That backline was a combination back-3/5 that featured Jackson Ragen starting in place of the injured Yeimar, and Kelyn Rowe playing as a left wingback on Nouhou’s outside. The whole back 3/5 played well, but two players who stood out, in particular, were Ragen and right wingback Alex Roldán. Alex Roldán topped both teams with 14 duels, winning his lone aerial duel and 8 of 13 ground duels. Those duels, along with a monster performance from JP that saw him go 7/8 on ground duels and 1 for 3 in the air, went a long way in helping the Sounders win 47 duels to León’s 40. The Sounders are back in action on Sunday as they face Austin FC on the road. Seattle will face NYCFC in the CCL semis after the nomadic Eastern Conference team topped Communicaciones in penalties.
25′ — Some excellent defensive work from Alex Roldán as he stands an attacker up and frustrates him until the León player dribbles over the end line.
35′ — Cristian Roldan finds Jordan Morris in León’s area, but Morris’ shot with the outside of his right foot is over the bar.
45’+3 — João Paulo earns a penalty after a layoff from Morris. Montero steps up to the spot and finishes high and to his right to open the scoring! 1-0 Sounders (4-0 aggregate)!
55′ — León continue to mount pressure as they look to get back into the tie. A cross comes in from the right side of Seattle’s box, but Nouhou heads it behind and away from danger.
63′ – Stefan Frei gets his fingertips to a header that carries over the bar for a corner.
83′ — Frei makes his best save so far, diving to his left across the goal to swat a bouncing shot away to preserve the shutout.
87′ — Frei again! León keep pushing and get a good look from just outside the six-yard box, but Frei gets a kick save and smothers the rebound to prevent any danger.
90’+1 — León get their goal. A cross finds a runner who splits Abdoulaye Cissoko and Jackson Ragen, and the point blank header beats Frei. 1-1 (4-1 aggregate)
Jackson Rajen is the real deal: Jackson Ragen faced a tough test on Thursday night, filling in for the injured Yeimar — an MLS Best XI player in 2021 and recent Colombia National Team call-up. His performance wasn’t perfect, but when the task is bending without breaking on the road against a Liga MX team being good enough is good enough. Ragen was impressively calmed under pressure, never seeming overwhelmed by the occasion. He completed a respectable 7 of his 11 passes, but most importantly he had a total of 18 clearances, 3 recoveries, 2 blocks, and a number of other smaller interventions that don’t show up on the stat sheet. A year ago the former Sounders Academy player failed to catch on as a Chicago Fire draft pick, and now he’s showing glimpses of being the Sounders’ future at centerback.
Fredy Montero’s magic: Fredy Montero is a golden god. He is Supah Fred. He is PK perfection. He is aging like a fine wine or an over-proofed brown liquor, and none of us know just quite how or why. Some have speculated that locked away in a house in Bellevue, or maybe in the basement of Schmetzer’s Sporthaus lies a beautifully painted portrait of Montero that ages in his stead. I think that maybe with every year that he chooses to continue his run, someone somewhere loses whatever stamina and innate ability with the ball they possessed. Regardless of the reason, Montero’s been able to ease the pains of Raúl Ruidíaz’s absence with his veteran guile, quality passing and remarkable nose for goal. And now he’s placed his name in the annals of history as the MLS player with the most CCL goals. It might not last forever, so let’s enjoy it as long as we can.
Good enough: This was far from a perfect game, but it didn’t need to be. A 3-0 lead is a significant one, but as the New England Revolution proved in their fall to Pumas UNAM despite an identical lead heading into the second leg it’s not insurmountable. With a game plan that involved conceding possession – The Sounders had 27% of possession to León’s 73% — the team did need to play very good defense and hopefully pick up a goal. They succeeded on both counts, limiting what serious danger León could create in the first half before getting a penalty just before halftime. With an even larger hill to climb, Seattle allowed León to continue throwing themselves against a nearly impenetrable wall. León took an astonishing 26 shots, while Stefan Frei made 7 saves and his defense blocked 10 more shots, while throwing in 48 (48!!) clearances. The home side eventually got on the board, but it wasn’t good enough to change the result. There will be plenty to work on from this one, but it was definitely good enough.
Brian Schmetzer: “I did tell the players to enjoy the moment. It’s an iconic stadium with a very talented team. But we came to win. We wanted to win, we wanted to keep a shutout.”
— Jeremiah Oshan (@JeremiahOshan) March 18, 2022
48 — The Sounders had 48 clearances.