SEATTLE, Wash. — It’s the nature of records to be set under ideal circumstances, and while Tuesday’s result at CenturyLink Field wasn’t exactly a record, the Sounders did carve out a little piece of Major League Soccer history. And a lot of things had to fall in place for it to happen.
After an early Tigres red card, two long distance goals, and a winner put in from the sharpest of angles, Seattle became the first MLS team to eliminate a Mexican side from CONCACAF Champions League. Their three second half goals gave them a 3-1, second leg victory, the 3-2 aggregate result sending them into the CCL semifinals.
The stars started aligning two days ago when Ricardo Ferretti sent his second team to Seattle. None of Tigres’ starters made the trip north, leaving a team of prospects and backups to defend the 1-0 lead the Primera leaders earned in leg one.
But Ferretti’s gift looked ironic after Elias Hernandez, one of the few veteran players in Tigres’ traveling squad, put home a 23rd minute Alberto Acosta cross. The goal left Seattle chasing three goals, Tigres’ 2-0 aggregate lead bolstered by Hernandez’s away goal.
Then Seattle got their second break. Already carrying a yellow card, Tigres midfielder Manuel Viniegra kicked a ball away from a Sounder player after referee Elmer Bonilla had whistled for a foul. The near-obligatory yellow left Seattle with 45 minutes to play 11-on-10.
But the dismissal couldn’t overshadow the fact Seattle looked flat, evoking memories of big games’ past – games where the Sounders failed to answer the call. Whether you look at last season’s Western Conference final, the playoff trip to Salt Lake in 2011, or the troubles scoring goals in the 2009 and 2010 playoffs, the Sounders’ list of recent disappointments has become a weight on the franchise’s shoulders.
That’s DeAndre Yedlin’s goal, Seattle third huge break, was so huge. Though the Sounders had come out of halftime having found some intensity, there was little indication they could find three goals. But when a corner came out to the 19-year-old right back, his one-timer from 27 yards found the back of the net.
A deflection helped, and the shot wasn’t the type of blistering try you’d expect to create trouble in a crowd. But somehow the ball bounced just inside Jorge Diaz de Leon’s left post. And somehow, Seattle finally had some momentum.
Seven minutes later, Seattle got their fourth and final break, with new Sounder Djimi Traore putting a 30-yard rocket of the bottom of de Leon’s crossbar. When the ball landed two feet inside the goal, Traore not only had one of SportsCenter’s plays of the day, he had Seattle’s equalizing goal.
In the face of all that fortune, Eddie Johnson’s equalizer now seems inevitable. Put behind the defense by Steve Zakuani in the 75th minute, Johnson took the ball to the Tigres endline before getting de Leon to commit to the cross. The small opening at the near post left room for Johnson to slide his shot into the right side netting, sending Seattle into the semifinals.
With the win leaving Seattle as the first MLS team to eliminate a Mexican club, it’s tempting to use what ifs to establish some perspective. What if Ricardo Ferretti brought some of his starters? What if Manuel Viniegra doesn’t draw a second, stupid yellow card? What if DeAndre Yedlin doesn’t get that deflection, or what if Djimi Traore’s shot catching one more inch of the bar?
But look close enough at any historical even, and you can find what ifs. Seattle eliminating Tigres may have more than most, but time will gloss over the details. It won’t take long for us to look back on tonight and see accomplishment, not just good fortune.