Success in non-league competitions for MLS teams depends a lot on roster depth and careful use of playing time. The Sounders did it well Wednesday in Honduras, getting the decisive goal from two veteran substitutes, Brad Evans on the score and Osvaldo Alonso on the assist, to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals after a 3-2 win over Club Deportivo Marathon.
Evans’ header in the 78th minute gave the Sounders their third lead of the game and the victory in the three-team Group Four despite heavy offensive pressure from the homestanding club in San Pedro Sula.
The teams play again Oct. 24 in Seattle, but the game is meaningless because the Sounders took the maximum nine points in three CCL games and can’t be caught. The Sounders already eliminated Caledonia with a pair of 3-1 wins in August.
The triumph Wednesday will allow the Sounders to play reserves and save starters for play in the last week of the MLS regular season.
The Sounders scored first in the 11th minute when Sammy Ochoa, starting in place of Fredy Montero, took a cross from Honduran native and new Sounders acquisition Mario Martinez, playing in his hometown. Ochoa sent a one-hop header just inside the far post from eight yards.
Marathon’s equalizer came in the 35th minute when Mario Berrios scored on a penalty kick. Sounders goalie Michael Gspurning was called for a foul, and yellow-carded, when he stopped a breakaway a little too harshly.
The Sounders went up 2-1 in the 62nd minute when Andy Rose sent a long pass ahead to Eddie Johnson, who collected it near the top of the area with his back to the goal and defender. He whipped his right leg around the defender a boomed a score inside the far post.
Five minutes later, Marathon tied the game at two on another PK from Berrios. This time, Sounders defender Patrick Ianni was called for a dubious foul when a Marathon forward fell over him. Gspurning had no chance on Berrios’s ball.
Coach Sigi Schmid brought in Evans and Alonso late and the fresh legs on a sweltering night paid off in the 78th minute when Alonso lofted a pass that found Evans out-jumping his defender for a snap header from 12 yards.
The conservation of starters’ energy was important because the Sounders host Western Conference leader San Jose Saturday. The humid night and the long flight to Central America was enough for the Sounders to hold back Mauro Rosales and Christian Tiffert, who are nursing minor injuries.
Additionally, Johnson is suspended from Saturday against San Jose because of yellow card accumulation.