There are always two sides to every story – in this case, with the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Champions League, there are two stories inside both legs. And in the case of two of Major League Soccer’s perennial strongest finishers, there were no storybook endings.
Seattle 3-7 Santos Laguna
After a solid 2-1 first leg victory at Century Link Field, the Seattle Sounders made the trip down to face their opponents at the Corona Stadium near Torréon. Early on, the Sounders were unlucky to have two close-range shots saved by Santos goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez. But in the 8th minute, the entire complexion of the Quarterfinal changed starkly.
The reversal happened in the course of two minutes, as the Sounders’ lead turned into a deficit. The aggregate score was squared by Christian Suarez, who benefited from soft defending outside the area that enabled him to find some daylight. He sent a blast from just outside the eighteen barely out of the reach of Michael Gspurning and into the net. Two minutes later Oribe Peralta, who was being held back by Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, spun and shot the ball with ease for a three-to-two aggregate lead.
There was a glimmer of hope for Seattle, as Alvaro Fernandez scored with a header in the 37th minute. It was Fredy Montero with a great cross from the far side of the field, which eluded the Santos defender and fell to Fernandez for the cool finish. The goal equalized the aggregate score as well as the away goals as they entered the locker room.
But Santos responded four minutes inside the start of the second half. The American international Herculez Gomez gave his side the spark they needed to win the match. He ripped a hard shot in the 49th minute to put Santos ahead for good, and got his second of the game in the 68th. Gomez heading the ball past Gspurning off a cross from Peralta.
Suarez got his second of the match in the 76th minute while Carlos Ochoa ended the slaughter with his goal in the 81st minute. But by the time those two goals happened, the result was in little doubt. Six goals in the second leg for Santos Laguna spelled the end to Seattle’s quest in the competition.
Toronto F.C. 4-3 Los Angeles Galaxy
A match-up of Major League Soccer clubs, the Los Angeles Galaxy fell victim to some troubling defensive lapses, as well as a couple of questionable calls from the referees, as Toronto F.C. found their way through in front of a limited crowd at the Home Depot Center.
It was Ryan Johnson and Nick Soolsma that teamed up for both goals that got the Reds into the Semifinals. The first was a solid cross from Soolsma into the Galaxy area in the 34th minute, and Johnson leapt in the air to head the ball in past Josh Saunders.
Throughout the first half though the Galaxy were more dangerous, but Toronto’s high line put a number of Galaxy runs offside. Mike Magee had a couple of opportunities go against him, one where his shot was neutralized by Toronto keeper Milos Kocic, the other incorrectly called offside by the assistant.
After the break, there was a moment where everyone thought the Galaxy would finally assert themselves in the tie. In the 55th minute, Ty Harden tried to prevent a Landon Donovan cross to Robbie Keane. Harden instead deflected the ball into his own net. But just when you thought the MLS Cup Champions were primed to find that pivotal goal, it was actually the Canadian side who created the magic.
Johnson and Soolsma connected again in the 67th minute for that dramatic dagger. Johnson was on the near side of the field. He crossed the ball into the area, and Soolsma came out of nowhere and smashed it past Saunders for the aggregate lead.
History has been made by Toronto, a team that has never finished in the Top 10 in the MLS standings – and thus never made the Playoffs – since their inception. If this result was any indication, that might just change in 2012. Aron Winter’s side has also eclipsed the 2008-09 Montreal Impact as the Canadian team making the deepest run in the Champions League. The Impact, then a USSF Division 2 club, qualified for the Quarterfinals that season. They bowed out in that round to – you guessed it – Santos Laguna.
And that’s who is next for Toronto FC. Los Guerreros are an interesting squad in their own right for many in the U.S., as Gomez continues to impress on his current scoring rampage as he tries to impress USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Toronto has a lot of European experience in their team, but will they have enough talent to overcome Santos’ firepower? As for Los Angeles and Seattle, they’ll need to shake off the disappointment and get back to work towards their league schedule.
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