National Writer: Charles Boehm

Seattle Sounders measured after CCL stalemate with Motagua: “We'll find a goal or two”

Jordan Morris Seattle Sounders CCL Motagua

With pedestrian passing numbers, just one shot on goal and relatively few clear chances on a choppy pitch at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, Seattle Sounders FC had reasons to feel underwhelmed by their 0-0 draw with Motagua in the away leg of their Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 clash in San Pedro Sula, Honduras on Thursday night.

Then again, a glance at the first-leg suffering of their MLS counterparts from Colorado (1-0 loss at Comunicaciones) and Montréal (1-0 loss at Santos Laguna) can put things into perspective for the Rave Green as the scene switches to Lumen Field next week.

“We'll watch the film and work on some final-third movements for sure, to be a little sharper. But that was a big, tall, athletic, strong team, and they were well organized, especially in the first half. So it wasn't easy,” said Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer postgame.

“My message is always if we can keep a clean sheet, I believe we have enough attacking talent in this squad to find a goal or two. … There were a few nervy moments on set pieces and some other stuff. So we'll have to look at that. But overall, yes, we're very, very, very pleased with the defending performance.”

Goalkeeper Stefan Frei framed the occasion as one where the two teams’ differing points in their respective calendars required heady game management to save legs that are still well short of optimal output.

“The fact that we were able to possess the ball towards the end of the game and get them tired when they're five, six games into their season already was nice to see,” said Frei, who made four saves.

“We simply don't have midseason form yet in terms of fitness. So I think we were smarter in the way we played this game. We took our time when we needed to, on set pieces, restarts. We were also a bit smarter with our possession, making them chase and tiring them out a little bit. So all those things help to make sure you have enough gas in the tank to see out the 90-plus minutes.”

Seattle welcomed captain Nicolas Lodeiro back to the starting lineup after his injury-blighted 2021, and gave free-agent signing Albert Rusnak his debut. The Slovenian turned in a promising if spotty outing on the right side of the attacking band of three in a 4-2-3-1 shape.

“Albert is a quality player. So I think he's going to find a way to get into games even if it's not made for him,” said Frei. “When we finally can really play to his strengths and use his technique, I think his soccer smarts – he finds the pockets exceptionally well, when he comes in from the outside, and then he has the quality to really make something out of it when we break lines.”

It was another Sounder making his first-ever start for the club who drew the eye: 16-year-old homegrown midfielder Obed Vargas.

The Alaska native was called upon in the absence of 2021 MLS Best XI honoree Joao Paulo, whose late start to preseason led Schmetzer and his staff to send him back to Washington in order to work on his fitness instead of making the trip to Central America. And Vargas looked more than capable in the engine room, working well alongside established regulars like Cristian Roldan and Lodeiro.

“We have a bunch of really talented young players coming through; Obed is one of them,” said Schmetzer of the teenager. “He earned, through his work in preseason, a chance to start, and I thought the kid was great. I thought he was tremendous, I think his understanding of the game … his stamina. I thought his overall game was tremendous, but he has to learn a few other things.

"There's some little savvy points of the game; his strength, he's only 16, so he still has a ways to go. But that certainly was a very, very, very good debut start for that young man.”

Frei too offered ample praise.

“I've seen now for quite a while how good he can be and how confident he is for a young player – it’s very good in that situation, that position where he plays,” said the goalkeeper of Vargas. “When you have a top athlete breathing down your neck, you have to have good confidence in yourself, good quality, and he has it all that, and so that's really good to see. I think he also has a good head on his shoulders, that's the most important when I see a young player, young talent. It's someone who still wants to work and get better, someone who doesn't think they've made it yet. And so I see all the right things there.”

The Sounders will welcome Motagua to Puget Sound for the second leg next Thursday (10:30 pm ET | TUDN).