You may have or may have not seen the announcement today by multiple news reporting agencies, that the Sounders newest Designated Player–and guy they paid nearly $9 million to acquire–is out with knee problems and won’t be a factor in next weeks game against Santos Laguna taking place in Mexico. This is a blow on multiple levels.
The Sounders defense has been very good and the addition of Djimi Traore has helped solidify a back line that has needed with the continual err of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado who was noticeably vacant from his normal left side pairing at Centre Back. Traore’s long passes get a little old but his ability to disarm the attack of Darwin Quintero and Peralta Oribe was a very important part of keeping the game competitive Tuesday night. It’ll be, yet again, another important key heading into this coming Tuesday’s second leg.
However, the problem hasn’t been defense. It hasn’t been in creating chances at the opposing goal. The problem primarily has been with finishing. Despite the amount of chances that the club has engineered, the attempts at striking gold have largely fallen silent with little danger.
It’s easy to point the finger at Mario Martinez or Sammy Ochoa on Tuesday, but both players had fine individual performances. Creating chances, space and helping the Sounders maintain possession in formidable situations. Disregard the amount of failed passes by Mario Martinez into the 18 yard box. A lot of what was missing was that striker who could provide a finishing touch or speed to break through the defensive line and get behind it. Many of those passes would be won by Eddie Johnson.
The question is weather or not the Sounders will get Eddie Johnson back for the second leg and if he’ll have the fitness to be a difference maker at that point. We saw the Sounders dominate the air game winning 61 headers to The Warriors 25. It was apparent that they were the better club in the air, unfortunately with that we saw 26 of those result in a turnover in position and wasted 11 corner kicks.
If they stick to the same game plan and attack through the air I’d be very surprised, perhaps even flabbergasted, if they continue to come up empty for goals. You can call it luck or you can call it a matter of probability. If you can continue to win headers in the 18 yard box, which the Sounders did 7 times out of 7 opportunities, no keeper can stop everything and with being at home Santos Laguna isn’t going to be so held up into their own attacking third. There is going to be more space to play with for the attack. There are going to be less defensive players preventing and blocking shots. The likes of Peralta and Quintero are going to be running on the counter attack.
The questions are pretty simple. Can the Seattle side continue to remain strong defensively? Can the Rave Green finally break through the invisible wall that is seemingly defending ever goal they come up against.
It’s easy to point to history and say that no teams that has lost the first leg at home has gone on and won. But this is an obvious truth. If you come back home and are winning there is little excuse not to come away with a win, especially at this level and especially with the quality of talent on the pitch from teams in the Semi-Finals.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, as Sigi Schmid pointed out, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we are going to lie down for 90 minutes. We will be taking the fight to them, in their house. We’ve already put up an excellent game through the first full leg. Sure, Herc got into the box unmarked–and did so a few times–and fired a laser beam that looked as though it came off Thor’s hammer. But the reality is that both teams made mistakes and while Santos Laguna was the only club to capitalize it doesn’t negate the fact that despite missing four of the top players, we ran stride for stride with a very good Mexican side and will again this coming Tuesday.