Things that triumphed Wednesday evening when Seattle played Honduran side C.D. Olimpia in the CONCACAF Champions League: The hosts, 2-1 thanks to late-game heroics by Erik Friberg and Brad Evans. Things that did not: attractive soccer and sportsmanship.
The match was filled with bad touches, bad communication and bad acting. The home side, at least, got over its bad luck, culminating in a 90th minute goal by Friberg, a 96th minute spot-kick by Evans, and a 97th minute scuffle between all the players on the field and several members of Olimpia’s bench.
“It would have been a lot easier if we would have scored some goals earlier,” said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid. “I thought we were the better team throughout the match. We kept fighting and battling to the end — a little of our personality as it has been in the past, it was good to see.”
Despite commanding the initial moments, things unraveled early for the Sounders. In the 9th minute, Olimpia’s Oscar Salas lifted a long through-ball over the heads of Seattle’s back line, finding the head of Alberth Elis. His touch directed the ball past keeper Troy Perkins to give the visitors an early advantage.
Seattle struggled to connect on short passes in the midfield and suffered mightily trying to convert their chances in the forward third. Aaron Kovar managed to have two laser shots hit off the post, while a Gonzalo Pineda attempt from 30 yards out sailed inches over the crossbar.
Despite outshooting the visitors 16-3 and controlling 63 percent of the possessions, the Sounders frequently looked disjointed and not in control of the ball with first touches.
Schmid attributed the issues to the lack of recent match experience from most of the night’s starting 11.
“It was the first time this group has played together,” he said. “It’s the first time Darwin (Jones) has started for us. Darwin and (Lamar) Neagle have never played together up top. I think Darwin had a hard time finding the game. Thomás has played more on the left than on the right for us, so it was a change of position for him. Just guys playing in different positions and needing to get used to it.”
The visitors played a physical game, getting rung up for 10 fouls and five yellow cards for their trouble. One incident saw Elver Alvarado shoulder-check Seattle keeper Troy Perkins after Perkins collected a shot and was attempting to put the ball in play to start a counterattack.
“It’s a Central American club, it’s the way it is,” said Perkins of the foul.
Olimpia’s players also submitted a series of Oscar-worthy performances that would have drawn the interest of a scuba instructor. Several players spent time rolling on the ground in apparent agony, but the attention of the trainers seemed to remarkably speed their return to the pitch. Special mention should be given to Arnold Peralta, who after committing a yellow-card tackle against Kovar dropped more softly than Sonny Liston after a light shove from Thomás.
Heading into the match’s late stages, Schmid was desperate to catch a break, something his team has been unable to do in recent months.
“With about fifteen minutes to go I was thinking, ‘We do not deserve to lose this game, we’ve been the better team, and hopefully something will change and something will break our way,’” said the Sounders coach.
Ultimately, it was a pair of Seattle substitutions and an Olimpia injury (read that with whatever level of cynicism you will) that led to the turnaround. First Friberg subbed on for a faltering Jones in the 62nd minute, followed by Evans’ entrance for Thomás 12 minutes later.
With the clock ticking toward the 90-minute mark, Olimpia’s Rommel Quioto was stretchered off the field suffering from an apparent cramp. Moments after the stretcher hit the touch line, Quioto rolled off and stretched out his hamstring before jumping to his feet. The move drew jeers from the home crowd, to whom Quioto turned his back to the field to applaud. When the stadium erupted seconds later, Quioto was forced to whip his head back to the play.
Seattle had scored. Aaron Kovar took the throw-in and launched towards Evans inside the penalty area. Evans’ mark mishit his header, and the ball dropped squarely for Friberg, who headed the ball into an open net to record his first goal since returning to the club in June.
“I loved it,” said Perkins. “The guy is faking an injury getting off the field, he’s clapping to our fans, and three seconds later we get a goal, so a little bit of justice done there.”
The go-ahead goal was soon to follow. In the first minute of stoppage time, Peralta went in for a slide tackle against Dylan Remick, taking Remick’s legs out with a scissor tackle. Referee Kimball Ward pointed to the spot, and the crowd erupted once more while Olimpia’s players crowded the referee.
It didn’t take long for a melee to develop around the ball. Pineda was replaced by Evans to take the kick at Schmid’s behest, while players from both teams were involved in a shoving match.
That kerfuffle proved to be a foreshock. When penalty area had finally been cleared, Evans stepped up and casually struck the ball into the middle portion of the net, screaming at Olimpia’s captain, keeper Noel Vallarde as he celebrated. Vallarde kicked the ball at Evans, and seconds later the entirety of both teams had congregated around the two players, where a brawl ensued.
Olimpia’s coach Hector Vargas blamed the officiating for creating the hostile situation.
“I really believe that towards the end, the level of the referee was not the same level that the match required, so you never want to see a game (where that happens),” said Vargas through an interpreter, though he did not dispute that the penalty had been fairly given.
Regarding the actual scuffle, both managers were guarded in their responses.
“At one point I know some of their subs ran onto the field, their coach ran onto the field, their assistant coach ran onto the field. Obviously, that’s something for CONCACAF to look at,” Schmid said.
Seconds after play resumed, the final whistle went, and Seattle had cemented its position atop Group F with four points. The events of the match will undoubtedly add to the hostility when Seattle travels to Honduras to face Olimpia Aug. 26. Still, Schmid was pleased at the outcome and what he hopes is the end to Seattle’s summer woes.
“It means a lot for their confidence,” he said. “But also for the group as a whole to show that this stretch is behind us and we want to get forward and we want to win games.”