So much for history.
Any chance the Sounders had to achieve something no MLS team has vanished almost instantly. Any shot to extend their dominion beyond their league and country disappeared in a brutal late-game stretch.
The CONCACAF Champions League trophy will not be coming to Seattle this year. Olimpia made sure of that in a penalty-kick victory in the first round of the tournament.
Forget the idea that the Sounders had a relatively easy road to the semifinals. Can’t say that when you’re knocked out in the round of 16.
The consolation is that they can focus squarely on their regular season now. But the chance to claim an MLS first disappeared for them Thursday.
“I don’t care how we lost or what the circumstances were. It’s extremely disappointing. We like to think of ourselves as a big club,” said Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer, whose team lost 4-2 on PKs to its Honduran opponent after tying 4-4 on aggregate. “In every game we play we like to think we are better than our opponent. I personally am extremely disappointed.”
Since the 2008 format to the CONCACAF Champions League — which encompasses the top clubs teams from North and Central America — no MLS team has won. Not the Galaxy despite its five MLS Cups. Not DC United despite its four MLS Cups. The international competition has always proved too much for the American and Canadian squads.
Two years ago, the Sounders poured all their resources into trying to capture the tourney, only to lose forward Jordan Morris for the season to a torn ACL. But that didn’t seem to deter Seattle in going all in this time around.
Coming off a 2-2 tie against Olimpia in Honduras last week, Schmetzer put his best team on the field Thursday. And despite allowing an early goal, it looked as though Seattle was heading to the next round until the 86th minute.
First, Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan headed in a goal from new teammate Joao Paulo at the 21-minute mark to tie the score at 1-1. Then, Joao Paulo scored off a Roldan assist in the 64th minute to give the Sounders the lead and unleash the home crowd.
It seemed reminiscent of the last home game Seattle played at CenturyLink Field, when they squashed Toronto, 3-1, to capture the MLS championship.
And then it looked a whole lot different.
With four minutes left in regulation, Olimpia’s Carlos Pineda scored off a Yustin Arboleda assist. The game went to penalty kicks, where Roldan and Kevin Leerdam each failed to score.
The home crowd went from stoked to stunned in a matter of minutes, and Schmetzer felt their pain.
“We stopped playing. In sports you gotta make plays,” Schmetzer said. “My message to the fans is that I’m sorry we lost tonight. People who came tonight deserved for us to go forward.”
The Sounders have struggled with slow starts over the past few seasons despite their repeated trips to the playoffs and MLS Cups. Schmetzer was hoping he could change course this year, but Thursday was an obvious setback.
And though the head coach asserted that he was going to turn this loss into motivation, it was clear that this defeat hurt him more than usual.
Goalkeeper Stefan Frei was a bit more optimistic, although he realized Seattle squandered an opportunity. He recognized the favorable draw his team had and said the Sounders had a chance “to do something special.”
But unlike Schmetzer, he doesn’t feel like the preseason he and his teammates put in went to waste.
“It’s a setback for CONCACAF, but not really a setback for the league (MLS),” Frei said. “I think you have to look at it as a wake-up call and try to learn from it and see what we did well. I think we did some things well, but obviously there are quite a few things we can do much much better at.”
If recent history is an indication, the Sounders will recover. They’ve made the playoffs every season they’ve been in the league and have reached the MLS final in three of the past four years.
And if they were going to lose in the Champions League, the first round is the time to do it.
This still hurts, though. The Sounders felt they had a chance to do something no MLS team has done.
There is still plenty to play for, but they’ll spend some time wondering what could have been.