So much for taking on the world.
Deportivo Saprissa, the Costa Rican powerhouse, showed just how tough the world of soccer is for the brash second-year Major League Soccer franchise. Saprissa dashed the dreams of glory that many Sounders faithful had quietly harbored for this international competition, defeating Seattle Sounders FC 2-0 in round three of the CONCACAF Champions League group stage at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Tuesday night.
The Sounders third straight loss in the group stage effectively ends any real hope of advancing to the knockout stages of the competition. It also douses talk of a potential “Treble” — winning the MLS Cup, U.S. Open Cup and Champions League — and it deprives the CONCACAF competition of one of its largest paying audiences. Nearly 26,000 supporters attended the Sounders home match against Mexican league leaders Monterrey–the second largest attendance ever for a Champions League match.
The match started brightly enough. Coach Sigi Schmid gambled on a lineup that offered a mixture of starters and reserves. And for most of the first half, the gamble appeared to pay off. But in the 38th minute, defender Leo Gonzalez, a native of San Jose, attempted to win the ball. The referee issued a red card for a high-kick foul to the thigh towards Saprissa’s Jairo Arrieta. Exit Gonzalez.
But a penetrating run by Steve Zakuani near the end of the first half nearly resulted in a goal and would have put Seattle up 1-0 with 10 men. His effort missed the target.
Seattle began the second half short. Saprissa, known for its intricate and silky passing, then began to turn on the skill. The players danced and passed around a scrambling Seattle defense that had dropped back in its own half, ceding oceans of space to the crafty Saprissa midfielders and forwards. It seemed just a matter of time before the Costa Rican team would produce a goal, as Saprissa players connected one perfect pass after another, forcing Seattle further back into its own box.
Saprissa capitalized in the 56th minute when David Guzman took Fernando Paniagua’s pass and shot inside the far post past goalkeeper Terry Boss for the 1-0 lead. It was Boss’ second competitive match for Seattle, having replaced an injured Kasey Keller for the second half versus Dallas on April 22.
“We didn’t put pressure on the midfield,” Schmid said. “We dropped in front of the centerbacks on the first goal, and then he was able to slip the ball in to an open man.”
Still, the Sounders had a chance to even the score. They needed at least one point to have any hope of advancing in the competition. Saprissa defender Gabriel Badilla tripped Fredy Montero inside the box, giving Seattle a penalty kick.
Osvaldo Alonso stepped up to take the penalty. But keeper Fausto Gonzalez dived to his right and saved the midfielder’s shot. Saprissa secured the win in the 82nd minute, when Josue Martinez found forward Allan Aleman on the counterattack, who slipped the ball past Boss for the second goal.
“I thought we did all right in terms of going a man down,” Schmid said. “We had a chance to equalize the game on the penalty kick, which was a good position to be in. We had a chance to go up 1-0 playing a man down at the end of the first half with the run by Steve Zakuani. The red card definitely hurt us, but at the end of the day when you get penalties and when you get chances like Steve’s, you have to bury them.”
Sounders FC (0-0-3) is now winless through its first three Group C matches, having lost, 2-1, to CD Marathón in Honduras and 2-0 to CF Monterrey on the Xbox Pitch at Qwest Field. Seattle is last in its group, behind Monterrey (3-0-0), Saprissa (2-0-1) and Marathón (1-0-2).
It is now 12-12-8 in overall competition and tied for fifth in the Western Conference of MLS at 9-9-6 (33 points). It travels to Columbus, Ohio, to face The Crew in a crucial MLS test on Sunday.
As for taking on the world? Dreams of global domination will have to wait another year.