Holding Monterrey and strikers Aldo de Nigris and Humberto Suazo scoreless is no easy feat. For Seattle, it required reaching deeply into the bag of tricks.
Seattle bunkered in Tuesday night and hoped to create chances on the counterattack, a strategy that represented a shift from the Sounders’ typical plan. A possession-based team, Seattle usually eschew the defend-and-counter game.
But when facing the defending CONCACAF champions on their home turf, the Sounders decided to switch things up. The team’s back line, anchored by Jeff Parke and Zach Scott in the middle, sat back and held los Rayados to only four shots on goal.
With memories of the three goals conceded in four minutes at Monterrey in the group stage last season, coach Sigi Schmid didn’t want to let Monterrey’s talented attackers dictate the terms of Tuesday’s game by giving them plenty of open space. They didn’t, and the Sounders skipped town a 1-0 CCL win and a well-earned stop atop the standings in Group D.
"[Defense] was very important for us today,” Schmid said on Tuesday night. “Last time we played here, Suazo destroyed us. We wanted to make sure we didn't give him too much space. ... We were happy with that defensively and we wanted to try some counterattacks. I thought we had a couple counterattacks, scored a goal on one."
For much of the match, especially in the first half, Seattle kept their defensive shape. Despite a 67.6 percent advantage in possession and 653 completed passes, Monterrey had difficulty exerting a consistent pressure on Seattle’s goal.
Perhaps their best opportunity to score came off a Seattle mistake, when goalkeeper Terry Boss was stripped inside the box by de Nigris after a back pass. But the Sounders even somehow thwarted that attack to preserve the shutout.
In a larger sense, this match showed the evolution of Seattle’s tactical choices. Seattle’s personnel and by their playing style were essentially set going into a match in Year 1 of their existence, but Schmid now has the personnel and the experience to switch styles depending on the opponent.
On Tuesday, it meant that a team with a handful of reserves could play with — and defeat — one of the best teams in the continent.
“It's the confidence we have in each other no matter who steps on the field,” midfielder Brad Evans said. “We said it last week when we played in Dallas. We had different guys on the field and now we have a different lineup and we get out with a win. Top to bottom, just a great feeling.”
Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewWinnerMLS