MONTERREY, MEXICO – Three days after climbing to second place in Major League Soccer, Sounders FC has climbed to the top of CONCACAF Champions League Group D.
The Sounders got a first-half goal from Alvaro Fernandez and survived unrelenting second-half pressure for a 1-0 victory over CCL defending champion Monterrey.
It was the Mexican side’s first loss in 14 Champions League matches.
Seattle also becomes the second MLS club in 26 matches to win on Mexican soil, joining FC Dallas, which won at Pumas last week.
“It’s one that will go (down) in the history (books) for our club,” midfielder Brad Evans said. “We are now the second team to win in Mexico, so for us it’s special. Our locker room is happy.
“That will be the best team we play all year, easily – heads above everybody else we play, so I’m just happy.”
Most important, Seattle moves to 2-0 and the maximum of six points at the one-third mark of group play.
Last season, Monterrey won the group with 16 points, while No. 2 Saprissa advanced to the quarterfinals with 10 points.
“It means an awful lot for us because last year after two games, we had zero points,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “This year after two games we have six points. To come into Monterrey and win gives our team confidence as we go into games in the future. Obviously, we left some very important players on our team at home because of the amount of games that we play. So to win with the team we had, we are very, very pleased.”
With his team playing again three days after a 1-0 MLS win at FC Dallas, Schmid rested regulars such as Kasey Keller, Fredy Montero and Mauro Rosales, while starting a lineup that included Nate Jaqua and Pat Noonan as the forwards and Terry Boss in goal.
Boss came up with a shutout, surviving a second-half onslaught by Monterrey along with a significant blunder of his own.
All of that happened while protecting a lone goal that came in the 38th minute. It unfolded as a counterattack after Monterrey threatened inside the Seattle penalty area.
Once the Sounders got possession, they strung passes together, finally reaching Noonan at midfield. He sent a pass forward to Fernandez, who received it just outside the penalty area, touched it forward, fought off a sliding challenge from behind by Hector Morales, and shot past goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco.
“It was a very good build-up for us,” Noonan said. “I just kind of saw (Fernandez) making a through run, and I thought, ‘Maybe if I can squeeze this through, we get a chance on goal.’ We hadn’t had many chances on goal, and it worked out for us. He finished it very well, and it put us in a position to win the game.”
Monterrey seemed close to an equalizer several times in the second half, when it launched 11 shots.
The closest call may have come in the 66th minute, when Boss misplayed a ball cleared back to him and then fell outside the goalmouth. However, the Seattle defense prevented Monterrey from getting a clean path to the open goal.
“We think Monterrey is the best team in Mexico, even though they are not in first place right now,” Schmid said. “ We played a little more defensive than we normally play. Our defending was good, because they are a dangerous team.”
The Sounders now take a break in Champions League play before facing Herediano in Costa Rica on Sept. 14.
They return to MLS action at 1 p.m. Saturday when the Columbus Crew visits CenturyLink Field.
Seattle also remains alive in U.S. Open Cup, and will face Dallas in a semifinal match Tuesday at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila.
More information on the game is available at blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer.