TORREÓN, Mexico – Against all odds, the Seattle Sounders mounted an exciting rally, thanks to a late goal from an unlikely source, but in the end, they came up short.
Lamar Neagle's 73rd-minute goal canceled out Darwin Quintero's 21st-minute free-kick goal, but the Sounders failed to find a second goal, and they had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Santos Laguna in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series. The result means Santos advance to the CCL final, 2-1 on aggregate.
On a sweltering evening at Estadio Corona, the MLS side conceded possession in the early going, as expected. But that did not stop them from getting the better goalscoring chances -- chances they ultimately would rue not putting away.
Eddie Johnson should've finished a chance from six yards in the 7th minute but put his shot over the bar. MInutes later, Steve Zakuani had an open goal in front of him, but whiffed on the ball under pressure as Santos center back Felipe Baloy slid in. Shalrie Joseph had a free header in the 17th minute from eight yards out that he put over the bar.
Four minutes later, Santos made Seattle pay for their lack of finishing touch. Sounders defender Zach Scott brought down Herculez Gomez, who had slipped in behind the defense, about 23 yards from Seattle's goal. Scott received a yellow card and was possibly lucky to avoid a red.
Either way, Quintero stepped up and slammed his free kick over the wall and off the underside of the crossbar. At first, it seemed like the Colombian's shot had not crossed the line, as the ball spun back out after hitting the ground. As goalkeeper Michael Gspurning tried to react, Gomez reacted first and headed the ball into the open net. Afterward, the officials decided Quintero's original shot had gone over the line.
The goal deflated the Sounders, who were lucky not to fall further behind in the 43rd minute, when Quintero beat Gspurning with a low effort that caromed off the post. The rebound fell nicely to Oribe Peralta, but the Mexican international skyed his shot over a wide-open goal.
After the break, the Sounders – who were missing Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins through injury – pushed the midfield higher up in search of the equalizer, and they nearly grabbed it in the 47th minute. Holding midfielder Osvaldo Alonso ran onto a bouncing pass from Zakuani, but the Cuban's volley was saved by Oswaldo Sánchez.
Looking for a spark of some sort after an hour of play, Sounders manager Sigi Schmid threw on Argentine attacker Mauro Rosales and Neagle. The pair had an impact, as Seattle wrestled possession from their opponents, and in the 73rd minute Neagle created something out of nothing.
Neagle challenged the massive Baloy on a hopeful ball high down the right side, muscling the Panamanian international off the ball and cutting into the area. He laid a pass into the middle to Zakuani, whose one-time shot was saved by Sánchez but ricocheted out to Neagle. The substitute slotted the rebound into the empty net.
The goal injected energy into the visitors, and they came close to completng the comeback in the 82nd minute. It was their one, final moment of hope. Djimi Traoré got on the end of a cross from Alex Caskey, but the center back headed the ball directly at Sánchez. The goal would have sent them through to the final, but instead, that honor will go to Santos Laguna for the second straight year.
Santos will now face either defending champions Monterrey or MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy, who will play their second leg on Wednesday night in Monterrey.