It got off to a dream start before ending in less-than-ideal fashion, but the Seattle Sounders still have a pair of road goals coming off a 2-2 draw against Club Olimpia in Thursday’s Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 first-leg matchup in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
On one hand, head coach Brian Schmetzer and Co. will be feeling pretty good about their chances of advancing heading back to the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field for Leg 2 on Feb. 27 with two ever-valuable road goals in their back pocket. On the other, Seattle also missed an opportunity to potentially put the series to bed early by allowing a pair of second-half goals to level the contest after shooting out to a 2-0 lead courtesy of tallies from newcomer Joao Paulo and winger Jordan Morris.
Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s Leg 1 as the series moves to Seattle.
Debutants make their mark
Perhaps the most impressive part of Joao Paulo’s Sounders debut was that he wasn’t even playing in his preferred position.
With star playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro sidelined with a tendinitis issue, Joao Paulo, a defensive midfielder by trade, played as Seattle’s No. 10 in the contest. His impact was virtually immediate, as he thundered home a textbook header just six minutes after kickoff – a dream start to his Seattle tenure. Like many of the Sounders, the Brazilian lost some steam as the match wore on, but he still showcased prowess on the ball and pinpoint passing that Sounders fans have expected since his preseason arrival.
Joining Joao Paulo (above) for his inaugural match as a Sounder was Colombian center back Yeimar Gomez Andrade, who only recently arrived for training camp in Mexico City. This was banner performance by Seattle defensively (they were under it for much of the night), but based purely on his raw athleticism and physical presence, the partnership between Gomez Andrade and Xavier Arreaga should only grow more potent as their reps increase.
Should both Gomez Andrade and Joao Paulo achieve the full upside they’ve already shown in flashes, Seattle’s first-choice XI could be even more talented than the one that took home the 2019 MLS Cup just a few months ago. That's a scary thought for the rest of the league.
Weathering the storm
Schmetzer probably put it best at his postgame press conference.
"I think what you saw out there was a team that had played eight games and a team that had played one," the head coach said.
It's not a new obstacle for CCL participants from MLS; they've long had to begin the tournament by playing teams well into their league campaigns and that are already 90 minutes fit. These first legs are usually about weathering the storm that comes with that and absorbing the inevitable pressure without letting things get out of control in the frequently wild and crazy world of CCL.
Furthermore, Lodeiro's absence also wasn't the only one the Sounders had to contend with. Gustav Svensson, one of the team's most calming influences in the midfield, was also out with a calf strain. So was midfielder Harry Shipp, another steady, veteran cog that Schmetzer may have leaned on in this situation if he hadn't been sidelined (illness).
In that sense, this was another type of gutsy performance the Sounders have repeatedly produced during their recent run of making three MLS Cup finals in the last four years. The ending may have been frustrating, but emerging with a draw and pair of road goals without the above players is still promising.
A mixed bag for Jordan Morris
The last time Jordan Morris played in a CCL match, it was one of the more infamous games in the club's recent history, as the Homegrown star went down with a torn ACL against El Salvadorian side Santa Tecla and missed the entire 2018 MLS season before it even started.
Making his first appearance back in the competition, the 54th-minute goal against Olimpia must have felt great for Morris. For a few minutes, it seemed to Seattle squarely in the driver's seat.
— Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League (@TheChampions) February 21, 2020
But Morris also missed an opportunity to notch what might have been the dagger just minutes later when he was in a 1-on-1 with the Olimpia goalkeeper and had an attempted dish to Raul Ruidiaz picked off instead of taking the shot himself. Had he scored on the play, it would have been a third road goal and a devastating blow to the hosts. Instead, the Sounders conceded twice after the missed opportunity and had to settle for the draw.
"The third chance when Joevin Jones put Jordan in behind and he dribbles, he was trying to pass to Raul, 3-0 maybe that would have been the end of the game," Schmetzer said. "But that’s sports. We didn’t score and Olimpia still had life.
"As coaches, we can never micromanage the players on the field, they have to make the decisions on the field. Jordan tried to pass to Raul, which, he’s not wrong. But maybe he could dribble around the goalkeeper and score. That’s just the sport."
Morris might rue the missed chance, but it should by no means overshadow his positive shift. He also assisted on Joao Paulo's opener with a pinpoint lofted cross – an increasingly-refined aspect of his game that has served to make him all the more dangerous since he switched to being a full-time winger. Morris had a standout campaign last season, racking up 10 goals and seven assists, and for the most part on Thursday he looked locked in, explosive and ready for a big 2020.