The Sounders and Mexican side Club Necaxa played a scoreless game most of the night until trading goals in the final eight minutes for a 1-1 draw. Alvaro Fernandez opened the scoring late, but Necaxa got the equalizer in the 89th minute.
Winning their first MLS Cup title last December gained the Sounders entry into next year’s CONCACAF Champions League round, where beating a Mexican club team will be key to advancing.
So, the 1-1 draw played Saturday night in a “friendly” against Liga MX side Club Necaxa was viewed as more than a chance to give extra playing time to non-starters while several Sounders mainstays undertake World Club qualifiers with various national teams.
Prior to allowing a 90th-minute equalizer by Alejandro Diaz off a turnover, the Sounders had done a thorough job adjusting to the Mexican team’s style of play.
“It was a bit like the Columbus Crew,’’ said Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, the night’s designated captain as Osvaldo Alonso was rested. “On the ball. Directly to feet. Not too many long balls. We tried to press them a little bit so they would take long balls and set traps, but I think in the second half they did a lot better playing through us.
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“But I think a lot of international and especially Mexican sides play that way, so it’s always a good way to see where we’re at.’’
A crowd of 38,045 at CenturyLink Field saw the Sounders control the balance of play and more of the scoring opportunities throughout. But they didn’t break through until some high pressure in the 83rd minute forced a turnover that midfielder Harry Shipp pounced on deep in Necaxa’s end.
Shipp, starting in forward Clint Dempsey’s typical center spot, sent a nifty pass to Alvaro Fernandez down the left side. And Fernandez, who’d lost his starting role to Shipp two games earlier, deposited a perfect shot past Necaxa keeper Marcelo Barovero to open the scoring.
It looked like that would be enough. But a 90th-minute turnover allowed Jesus Isijara to streak down the right side before sending a cross into the box that Diaz drilled by backup Sounders keeper Tyler Miller.
“We just need to be cleaner in the back,’’ Roldan said. “It was the 89th minute and we just need to be more smart. At the same time, we’ve also got to finish our chances.’’
The Thunderbolts, as the Necaxa side goes by, aren’t exactly a powerhouse. They only recently made it back to top-level play after five years of relegation, though they did send out most of their regular lineup.
The Sounders countered with a youthful starting 11, anchored up top by veteran Will Bruin, starting at striker with Jordan Morris away with the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer felt his squad handled Necaxa well for the most part.
“Their style of play is, I guess you would say, not unlike some of the teams we play against,’’ Schmetzer said. “They’re a good, possession-based team. They can knock the ball around. I think the MLS has grown to a point where we can say the same things about ourselves.’’
Schmetzer had watched with delight Friday as veteran Dempsey scored a hat-trick for the U.S. in his return to national team play in 6-0 rout of Honduras.
“We were hooting and hollering at home,’’ he said. “It was good.’’
But the absence of Dempsey, Morris, Nicolas Lodeiro, Roman Torres and Joevin Jones, with Alonso, Chad Marshall and Stefan Frei resting, also allowed Schmetzer to give valuable minutes to non-starters. One of those was veteran Fernandez, the forward known as “Flaco” who didn’t miss when Shipp stole the ball late.
“As soon as I saw Shipp grab the ball I knew the pass was coming to me,’’ Fernandez said, through an interpreter. “So, I was prepared and I knew what I needed to do.’’
Fernandez was philosophical about being bumped to the bench by Shipp after the season opener.
“If I’m not playing right now, it’s because coaches are seeing some other players that are playing at a different level at this particular time,’’ he said. “I keep working all the time so I can get my opportunity when the time is right.’’