SEATTLE – Coming off a performance roundly panned as unacceptable, the Seattle Sounders were not shy about making changes ahead of their crunch CONCACAF Champions League semifinal on Tuesday against Santos Laguna.
Despite the improved the effort against Los Guerreros, however, the results remained disappointing. Featuring a lineup boasting seven changes from their previous game, the Sounders found themselves severely lacking any kind of bite in their 1-0 loss to Santos in the first leg of the series.
“I think we worked for each other and didn’t pick and choose,” Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid said in the postgame press conference. “That’s the important part of the game, you’ve got to work all the time. It’s when the game requires you to work, not when you want to work. We still have to get better in the final third, there’s still a lack of movement when we’re getting it to crossing positions and dangerous positions, so that’s something we still have to work on.”
The Sounders managed to generate 13 shots and even controlled possession for spells, but Santos appeared more than happy to absorb the pressure and wait to pounce on a mistake. Goalkeeper Oswaldo Sánchez was only forced into a pair of saves, and the Sounders never created the kind of sustained pressure that forced the visitors out of their comfort zone.
Among the more notable players missing from the Seattle roster were forwards Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins, both of whom started in last Saturday's 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake, only to be held out of Tuesday's game through injury. Johnson is nursing a hamstring strain, while Martins aggravated a knee injury that he picked up while playing for the Nigerian national team.
Schmid was in no mood to second guess the decision to play the duo Saturday.
“Well, we could put them all in a bubble and not played any of them and then nobody would have been injured for today, but you can’t do that,” Schmid said, noting that Santos Laguna used virtually the same lineup in their weekend match. “You can’t plan on injuries. Players should be able to play two games in succession like that.”
In the case of Martins, who had to undergo a fitness test before the previous game, Schmid wavered a little.
“Maybe that’s when we should have said no,” he said. “Again, we’re at the early stages with him. I don’t know him that well, he wanted to try and push through it, so we gave him that opportunity. I think it shows a little bit his character, wanting to be there for us and help our team.”
Whatever the reasons, the Sounders realize the results will need to get better, even as their performances improve.
“From an effort standpoint, I think that is what we were missing the last couple of games,” defender Zach Scott said. ”I think our sharpness and our quality can still come up.”