Sounders FC was less than a half-hour away from what had been called the most important game in club history, and some of its best players were missing.
Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, forward Fredy Montero, midfielder Osvaldo Alonso and defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado were all delayed by traffic after a rush-hour crash on Interstate 90.
Eventually, all arrived on time. And somehow the Sounders jumped to an early lead and held on for a 2-1 win over Santos Laguna on Wednesday in the first game of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series.
“I (arrived at CenturyLink Field) just 18 minutes before the kickoff, so it was more stressful before the game than in the game,” Gspurning said after his Sounders debut. “It’s not a normal pregame situation. But, OK, we did well; we win the game, and hopefully it will never happen again.”
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The Sounders were relieved at the result but couldn’t fully celebrate it because their work is only half done. The aggregate-score home-and-road series will be decided March 14 in Torreon, Mexico.
“To walk away with a victory tonight was important because it means next week they have to beat us,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “A tie is not going to be good enough. And we always feel very good about going on the road.”
Despite the shortened pregame preparations for some of the starters, the Sounders got off to a strong start.
They broke through in the 12th minute, when Fredy Montero sent a cross to the far post, and David Estrada headed it down past Santos goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez.
It was the first professional goal for Estrada, who was starting in place of newly acquired Eddie Johnson (hamstring).
“I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity given to me early on in the season,” Estrada said. “In my first start, to get a goal is really big for me – not only for the team, but for myself, too. I didn’t really read too much into (it being the first game). It was more coming out here and trying to show the coaches and fans that I can play here. And, luckily, things went my way.”
Schmid didn’t see it as luck.
“I’m so happy for David because it’s been a lot of years of work,” Schmid said. “ Nobody works harder. Nobody wants it more. For him to get the goal, to play in this game, to score against Santos Laguna, being a guy who was born in Mexico – I think was huge for him.”
Estrada’s goal stood until the 61st minute, when Santos forward Herculez Gomez managed to get a close-range shot around defender Leo Gonzalez, beating Gspurning wide.
The goal was a double hit for Seattle because road goals are used as the series tiebreaker.
However, the Sounders answered two minutes later, when Brad Evans muscled his way onto a Mauro Rosales free kick and headed it into the goal.
“Obviously, we’d like to have the shutout,” Evans said. “We don’t want to see that one go in. But to respond and get that second goal, it gives us more confidence going down there. I can tell you, nobody’s scared of going down there, that’s for sure.”
Santos is nine games into its Mexican Primera League season, while this was the first meaningful game of the year for the Sounders. The game also marked the Sounders debut for Gspurning, Adam Johansson, Marc Burch, and Johnson, who came on in the 78th minute.
“You could see Eddie’s a good player,” Schmid said. “He brings some calm to the game. You could see he settled the ball and connected his passes. His speed is certainly a danger. He’s going to help us.”
The game was played before a crowd of 23,433, a club record for CONCACAF Champions League.