Using mostly reserves, the Sounders wrapped up group play in the CONCACAF Champions League tourney Wednesday night with a ho-hum 3-1 win over Marathon of Honduras before a sparse crowd at CenturyLink Field.
Having already beaten Marathon 3-2 in Honduras last month, the Sounders were playing out the group string. The win gave the Sounders 4-0 record and the No. 3 seed and home-field advantage in the eight-team, knockout round of quarterfinals that will be played in March.
Seattle’s opponent will be determined after the completion of group play Thursday.
The only concern from the game was a leg injury to Steve Zaakuani, who went down hard, left the field, then returned to play before finally being pulled.
Sammy Ochoa began the scoring in the 23rd minute when he took a long cross from the corner by Mario Martinez, making the start against his hometown team, and beat his defender from about eight yards.
Four minutes later, Zakuani took a long grounder from Jeff Parke at the corner of the box, outmaneuvered a defender, drew out the goalie and shot it inside the near post.
In the 37th minute, a defensive breakdown allowed Marathon’s Tulio Vega to draw out Marcus Hahnemann, making his first start in goal as an MLS Sounder, then slip a pass to Mitchel Brown, who fired into an empty net to cut the visitors’ deficit to 2-1.
The lackluster second half was broken up in the 76th minute when Martinez fed a cross toward the goal. The Honduran defender lost control of the ball behind him, and David Estrada stepped around to drive in an easy score.
Martinez’s two assists helped ease the tension he created over the weekend when, on his Twitter sccount, he complained about a lack of playing time (40 MLS minutes as a reserve) since his Aug. 1 arrival in Seattle.
At practice Tuesday, he spoke through an interpreter and said, I want you all to understand that Im really happy with the team. Unfortunately, there are a lot of good players, and I have to wait my opportunity. Sometimes when you come from another country, you try to help the team, and thats what Im awaiting. What I said already happened, so now we need to concentrate on the game on Wednesday.
The Sounders return to MLS play at 6 p.m. Sunday with the regular-season finale on the road against the Los Angeles Galaxy , then begin playoffs the following weekend.
PLAYOFF TICKETS MONDAY — Tickets go on sale for the MLS Western Conference Semifinals against Real Salt Lake at 9 a.m. Monday. Purchasers can go to www.SoundersFC.com or by calling800-745-3000. All playoff tickets will be distributed via Ticketmaster’s TicketFast print-at-home service.
Dates of the two-leg series will be determined following the weekend’s results.
For what it’s worth, I’d love to see one of these Champions League matches played at Memorial Stadium. It’s just the right capacity for these crowds (too small for the Clink, too large for Starfire), plus it would be great to see at least one modern Sounders match at Seattle pro soccer’s Garden of Eden.
Then again, the modern Sounders have been masterful at creating the following they have, but I don’t think they can recreate the sense of wonder that greeted the original Sounders of 1974. It was a different time, and what happened then was totally surprising to everyone, the team included…they were hoping to draw 5,000 to the opener against Denver and got over 12,000 in the stands instead. I can still recall listening to Bob Robertson calling the game on KVI as I walked the streets of my neighborhood with a transistor radio. What was then almost as if by magic (I mean, who would’ve expected it?) is now the result of a marketing plan.