SEATTLE – The Seattle Sounders had a lot to live up to in the first leg of their Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal series against Chivas Guadalajara at CenturyLink Field on Wednesday, with fellow MLS sides Toronto FC and New York Red Bulls each bagging huge CCL quarterfinal victories of their own over Liga MX sides this week.
Clint Dempsey made sure that wasn’t a problem.
The longtime US national team stalwart scored the game’s only goal in the 78th minute of Wednesday’s first leg in front of a raucous CenturyLink crowd packed with Chivas supporters, staking the Sounders to a 1-0 aggregate lead heading into next week’s second leg at Estadio Akron outside Guadalajara.
“They came out and played, so it was an open game, it was back-and-forth so I think it was fun for the fans,” Dempsey told reporters after the game. “They have a big following as you could see in the stadium tonight, they were well supported. But our fans showed up as well and created a good atmosphere. But, yeah, they fought hard and went for it and so did we. Disappointed not to get more goals, I felt like I could have done better on two more of those opportunities but still happy with the win and the result.”
As they prepare for the second leg of the series next Wednesday, the Sounders now have an entirely different set of challenges. There’s the 5,000-plus foot altitude, for one, to go alone with a venue in Estadio Akron that is notoriously difficult on Concacaf opposition.
With a 1-0 lead in their back pocket and a week to prepare with no league matches in between, though, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said he expects his team to be ready to handle all of those variables.
“The altitude is just [mental]. That’s okay,” Schmetzer said. “We’ve played at [Real Salt Lake], we’ve played at Colorado. That’s not an issue for us. We have been in big stadiums around the world, playing against [Club] America down there last year, we’ve played in Monterrey with a full stadium so we understand that it’s going to be difficult. But a lot of times, players on both teams can be inspired by the energy, even if it’s a [hostile] crowd, you still as a player sometimes, you get up for the game.
Dempsey also said that he expects to have to contend with an energetic side next Wednesday that knows one road goal from Seattle could very well seal their fate.
“They’re going to bring a lot of energy,” Dempsey said. “They’re going to come out and try and take the game to us. We’ve just got to do a good job of trying to keep possession and create our own chances and if we’re able to an away goal, that’ll make it really difficult for them. But this will be a tough game. We have to go out there and put in a great performance. That’s what it’s about. That’s why you have two legs, you’ve got to do it at home but you’ve got to do it away.”