Clint Dempsey’s two go-ahead goals were answered by the visitors as Club America rallied for a 2-2 draw with the Seattle Sounders in Leg 1 of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal in front of 42,836 at CenturyLink Field on Tuesday night.
These are my first impressions:
– In a two-leg series, momentary lapses have huge consequences.
Dempsey earned the free kick on the periphery of Club America’s box late in the first half, colliding with a defender offset to the right and 25-odd yards from goal. Dempsey took the dead ball, too, leaving Andreas Ivanschitz flanked to his right with as good a view on the goal as anybody in the stadium.
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Dempsey opened his hips, whipped his shot around the yellow wall of bodies. It rippled past diving goalkeeper Hugo Gonzalez, the ball still rising as it smashed into the back of the net.
The Sounders had turned a promising open half against the defending champions into a valuable lead – one that held for less than a minute.
With less than a minute of regulation time before the break, Seattle shut off.
Rubens Sambueza stepped unchallenged into a pocket of midfield space and his pass ripped the Sounders defense up the seam. Darwin Quintero sprinted between center backs Chad Marshall and Brad Evans, won the footrace to the ball and beat Stefan Frei at his near post.
Just moments after they were celebrating in front of the North End, the Sounders trudged towards the tunnel with shoulders bowed at halftime.
Seattle took control for a spell after its second goal but gradually surrendered space. And with 20 minutes to go, Peralta was left alone in the center of the Sounders box to poke another away goal past Frei.
Dempsey’s goals provided Seattle with an golden opportunity to take control of the series from the defending continental champions. Instead, the Sounders head to Estadio Azteca as significant underdogs.
– This is Clint Dempsey’s team now.
Call it knee-jerk, or hyperbolic, but a game mostly overshadowed by Obafemi Martins’ imminent move to China was controlled by his jilted longtime strike partner – at least at one end of the field.
Much has been made about the pressure on rookie Jordan Morris, who become the first Sounders rookie to start the opener since DeAndre Yedlin in 2013. Morris slots immediately into Martins’ departed role on the right wing and will have to pick up at least some of his production if Seattle is going to realize its goals.
But Martins’ transfer also means that for the first time since he arrived from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013, Dempsey is now Seattle’s singular vocal point. The veteran stepped into the limelight confidently on Tuesday night, putting Seattle in front through both an inch-perfect first-half free kick and a second-half header.
– The first competitive look at Seattle’s 4-3-3 was instructive.
The Sounders’ vaunted new four defender, three midfielder, three forward formation looked exposed in a preseason friendly against Mexico’s FC Celaya and dominant against the Galaxy a week later.
But Tuesday was the first opportunity to put it to the test in a competitive game. And though the season has just opened, patterns are already beginning to form.
In the midfield, both Osvaldo Alonso and Erik Friberg sat deep, shielding the back line from Club America’s quick-strike attacks. Ivanschitz, meanwhile, pushed so far up the field that he spent most of the first half closer to the opposing box than Dempsey.
In the middle of the field, the Sounders were mostly solid, forming intuitive partnerships. And Seattle’s wide players grew into the game as it went along.
Seattle’s defense, though, got beat on the two most important plays of the game, first allowing Quintero to split them up the middle then leaving Peralta criminally unmarked in the center of the box.
And for all the potential positives from a mostly promising performance, those moments of indecision leave the Sounders with a mountain to climb next Wednesday in Mexico City.