Under most circumstances, an MLS team earning a draw in Mexico would be seen as a good result.
However, in the very specific circumstances that faced Seattle Sounders FC on Tuesday, it wasn’t enough.
A Lamar Neagle goal in the 73rd minute gave Seattle a rare 1-1 draw with Santos Laguna at Estadio Corona in Torreon, Mexico. However, the Sounders couldn’t conjure the second goal they needed to avoid elimination in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series.
Instead, Santos’ 2-1 aggregate-score victory sends it on to the final round, where it will meet the winner of the Monterrey-Los Angeles Galaxy series, which resolves tonight in Mexico.
“We put ourselves in a position where we could
have advanced and won it,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “Our finishing needed to be better, but I’m proud of our quality and the effort we put in tonight.”
Santos had taken a 1-0 advantage in the first leg last week in Seattle. And Los Guerreros added to that in the 21st minute of the second leg, as Carlos Quintero’s free kick hit the crossbar and ricocheted down just across the goal line.
That meant Seattle needed two goals to even the aggregate score. However, there was added incentive: If the Sounders managed those two goals without conceding another, they would advance on the road-goals tiebreaker.
Seattle had chances — firing 19 shots and putting five on goal — but could not get anything on the scoreboard until Neagle’s breakthrough.
That sequence began with Neagle winning possession on Santos’ end and sending a pass to Steve Zakuani in front of the goal. Zakuani’s shot was blocked by goalkeeper Osvaldo Sanchez, but Neagle swooped to the rebound and sent the ball into the net.
“I knew their defenders were going to be a little tired with the heat, and they’ve had a few games in the past week,” Neagle said. “My job was just to work, and I had a good ball over the top. I saw Steve on the other side, and I got the fortunate bounce off the goalie.”
Suddenly, the Sounders had about 15 minutes to create the goal that would send them on to the CONCACAF final.
There were a couple of good chances, including one in the second minute of stoppage time, when Neagle flicked a header wide of the post.
But soon after, the whistle blew for the final time.
“We were very close,” said midfielder Mauro Rosales, who came on in the second half. “But we know that it was not enough getting close to the final. We dreamed about being in the final of this competition because it was very important to us as players, and it was something we wanted so badly.”
The result sends Santos back to its second consecutive CCL final.
It also dropped MLS teams to 2-23-5 when playing on Mexican soil. And while the Sounders have one of those wins and one of those draws, the latest draw came on a night when they needed a win.
Seattle’s departure concludes a three-year run of appearances in Champions League with an overall 12-11-3 record. And it might be a while before the Sounders appear again. The club did not qualify for the 2013-14 tournament, and qualification for 2014-15 would have to be earned through achievement in the MLS regular season or MLS Cup or by winning the U.S. Open Cup.
Seattle returns to MLS play at 1 p.m. Saturday, when the New England Revolution visits CenturyLink Field.
“The guys are down a little bit because they’re disappointed, but now we’ve got to give our full concentration to the league,” Schmid said. “It’s not how we start, it’s how we finish. If we show this effort and this character, I think we’ll get the results that we need.”
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