Seattle Sounders took a tenuous lead in their CONCACAF Champions League qualifying tie with Isidiro Metapán, with a 60th minute goal from Fredy Montero giving the Major League Soccer outfit a 1-0 lead ahead of next Tuesday's match in El Salvador.
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid started all of Osvaldo Alonso, Steve Zakuani and Montero on the bench, but by the 60th minute, the three Sounders' standouts had been subbed-on. Less than a minute after the last change - Montero for Nate Jaqua - Seattle had their lead when Metapán goalkeeper Misael Alfaro a long shot from Montero.
Despite outshooting the Salvadorians 15-2 (and 5-1 in shots on goal), Seattle had to settle for a 1-0 lead after a match characterized more by fouls than scoring chances. Thirty-seven fouls were whistled, though only five cards were handed out.
The Sounders now head into a Saturday match at San Jose before their trip to San Salvador, and while only coming out of their home leg with a 1-0 lead could be seen as a slight disappointment, Seattle prevented an away goal, meaning one goal at Metapán would force their hosts to score three to win the tie.
The bigger question coming out of last night's match revolves around Seattle's approach. For all the talk leading into the match about taking the competition seriously, the Sounders started their second team. Are they truly intent on winning this competition, yet are underestimating Metapán? Or, have their comments in the media been deferential lip-service?
Sigi Schmid's willingness to bring on Alonso, Zakuani and Montero - the team's three best healthy players - hints that while Seattle intends to take the competition seriously, there's still a need to manage resources. While Seattle - fighting for a playoff spot in MLS - may choose a Champions League title over getting into the playoffs, that's not a choice the team needs to make. If resources are managed right, they could maintain their chance at both. Starting all his best players on the bench may backfire come next Tuesday, but the move didn't mean the Sounders were scoffing at the tournament.
Regardless, there seemed to be disappointment amongst online Seattle fans when Schmid's lineup was announced. The respect the Sounders showed to the competition leading up to Wednesday's match told fans that Metapán would be taken more seriously. Montero would play. Alonso would play. Zakuani would play, and Seattle would put their best foot forward.
Last night, they didn't, and now, between Toronto, Los Angeles and Seattle's plights, Major League Soccer has a realistic chance of "topping" last year's disappointing preliminary round performance. Then, one team advanced to group stage, joining the league's two automatic qualifiers. This year, the league may have to settle for just those two. We'll see next week.
Speaking of Next Week
While CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round action continues tonight with El Salvador's FAS hosting Guatemala's Xelajú, Major League Soccer's entrants won't be in action again until next week. On Tuesday, Toronto takes their 1-0 lead to Honduras to face Motagua, while Seattle carries the same scoreline into their match at Isidro Metapán. Then on Wednesday, Los Angeles will need at least four goals in Bayamón to overturn Puerto Rico's 4-1 advantage.