Despite 95-degree heat and the absence of key players, the Sounders pressured favored Santos Laguna into a 1-1 draw Tuesday night in Torreon, Mexico, but lost the two-leg semifinal series on a 2-1 aggregate score and were eliminated from CONCACAF Champions League play. The defending champions moved on to the finals.
The game was a far cry from the 6-1 pounding the Sounders took a year ago on the same field from the same team. A goal in the 74th minute by Lamar Neagle tied the match at 1 and created the real possibility that a second score would put an MLS team in the CCL tourney finals for the first time in the club championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean.
But history did not come to pass. Despite repeated forays into Santos territory, the Sounders didn’t find the tiebreaker — a second road goal that would have topped the lone road goal by Santos in its 1-0 win a week earlier at the Clink.
“We learned from last year, and that’s an important thing,” said coach Sigi Schmid. “You have to continue to learn and improve. We put ourselves in a position to advance, which was also very good.
“I think the character that we showed tonight, being down at halftime 1-0, was no different that our situation was against Tigres (Sounders came back to win 3-1). We knew we needed to score just two goals to advance, not three, and the guys battled. We put ourselves in a position where we could have advanced and won it.”
The Sounders probably lost the game in the fifth minute, when Steve Zakuani had a prime chance a few yards out as goalie Oswaldo Sanchez fell back, leaving a point-blank open shot. But Zakuani whiffed on the ball, which dribbled away.
Santos struck first in the 22nd minute when a free kick by Carlos Quintero from 30 yards banged down off the crossbar just behind the goal line, leaving Michael Gspurning — back in goal after a one-game CCL suspension for yellow-card accumulation — with no play on the shot or the bounce, which was headed in by an unchecked Herculez Gomez.
After a busy first half in which each side had eight shots on goal, the Sounders, missing injured starters Martins, Brad Evans and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado ,and with a slower Eddie Johnson (hamstring), kept firing. Neagle, who subbed in for Johnson in the 61st minute, won possession along the near flank and crossed to Zakuani, whose shot ricocheted off Sanchez back to Neagle, who had an easy, open-net shot.
Both teams swept their four games in group stage. Santos will face the Los Angeles-Monterrey winner in the finals starting April 24. The Sounders, 0-3-1 and last in the MLS West, return to the Clink and league play at 1 p.m. Saturday against New England.