TANGIER, Morocco — With a full moon beaming over Ibn Batouta Stadium, the stage was set for the Sounders to accomplish the unlikely.

Seattle entered the Moroccan night the underdog in their FIFA men’s Club World Cup debut against Egyptian power Al Ahly, who finished third in the tournament the past two years. The sides were goalless in the opening half, increasing the odds for the Sounders.

But the chaos ended up being an Al Ahly shot pinging off the cross bar and getting recycled back toward goal by midfielder Afsha. Sounders fullback Alex Roldan poked his left foot to block the shot, but the deflection wasn’t enough to take the ball off course. Roldan collapsed to the grass as the game-winning goal nestled into the net in the 88th minute.

The 1-0 result before 30,589 people advances Al Ahly to a match with Real Madrid in the semifinals Wednesday in Morocco’s capital city of Rabat. The Spanish powerhouse is the reigning UEFA champions and a four-time Club World Cup winner.

“It was a scramble,” said Sounders keeper Stefan Frei, who shuffled down his line in an attempt to make the save once the ball was deflected. “Alex is upset about the deflection, but I commend him because I need him to try to deflect that ball and sacrifice his body. It’s unfortunate because I don’t even know if that ball is on frame on the right side. It might have even missed the frame. It is what it is, but I appreciate the effort.”

Saturday was the Sounders’ first match of the 2023 slate. They’ll return to Seattle on Sunday and have three weeks to decompress. The Sounders will play one preseason match against USL Championship side Louisville City FC on Feb. 18 and prepare for their MLS opener Feb. 26 against Colorado at Lumen Field.


A two-week span the Sounders didn’t want. They qualified for the Club World Cup by becoming the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League title in May.

Seattle underwent multiple front office changes during the offseason but the only significant roster change was not renewing the contract for veteran forward Will Bruin. Before being named president and chief executive officer of Atlanta United, former Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said the current players earned a right to play on the global stage. The club even invested in moving a week of training camp to Marbella, Spain, in effort to continue to make history by winning the opening match.

“These chances don’t come around that often,” Sounders forward Jordan Morris said. “Being here is a huge honor and we’re proud of how we represented the league, being the first team to be here, that’s something that we’ll always be incredibly proud of, so we have to hold our heads high in that sense. But it’s incredibly frustrating to come all this way and work so hard in preseason and lose on a goal like that.”

The sides were balanced until the final three minutes.

Midfielder Nico Lodeiro opened the near chances for the Sounders when he smacked a deflection wide of goal in the 14th minute. Sounders defender Jackson Ragen, Morris and midfielder Albert Rusnak followed with attempts that missed, sending the sides into the break scoreless.

Sounders midfielder Josh Atencio made Red Devils keeper Mohamed El Shenawy work when he right-footed a shot center of goal. The Egyptian international collected the save in the 51st minute.

Al Ahly coach Marcel Koller said a stern halftime talk and substitution change helped his team play as he wanted. The Red Devils are unbeaten in 15 matches to open their league play. Koller brought on three players in the 63rd minute, most notably striker Mohamed Sherif.


Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer made his first move in the 68th minute when he pulled Atencio for Joao Paulo, marking the end of an eight-month recovery from a torn ACL for the star midfielder. But amid the rotation, Al Ahly pushed for their first scoring opportunity of the match.

Afsha’s right-footed shot went left of goal in the 69th minute.

“That’s a sub maybe I wish I would’ve put on a little bit sooner,” Schmetzer said of Joao Paulo, who was a finalist for league MVP in 2021. “When he came into the game, he was effective.

“We don’t make excuses. [Al Ahly] is in midseason almost, so that’s an advantage for them. But we had certain advantages as well. I thought we were well organized and disciplined in moments. That goal just sent them through and it was unfortunate.”

Schmetzer later put Danny Leyva on for Cristian Roldan in the 85th minute because of a hip injury Cristian suffered earlier in preseason training. A sign of the unique setting the Sounders were in Saturday. Seattle has too much still to play for even though they lost a massive opportunity in Tangier.

“It was a wonderful trip for us,” Roldan said. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t win or at least go to extra time. We showed glimpses of what we can be. We didn’t give up a lot of chances and all of a sudden you give up two and one goes in. We have to keep our heads up high and hopefully come back in the near future.”

Asian nominee Al-Hilal SFC of Saudi Arabia defeated African champion Wydad Casablanca 5-3 in a penalty shootout in Saturday’s earlier match in Rabat. Al-Hilal advances to play South American champion C.R. Flamengo of Brazil on Tuesday in the Club World Cup’s other semifinal match.