Osvaldo Alonso netted a late equaliser in Guatemala City to earn Seattle at 2-2 draw against Comunicaciones. (JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
The Seattle Sounders didn't start their match against Guatemalan side Comunicaciones looking like one of the best teams in Major League Soccer, but by the end of a rain-soaked night in Central America, the Sounders showed the quality and determination of a team capable of lifting multiple trophies in the immediate future.
Seattle became the first MLS team to secure passage into the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals after coming back from two deficits to post a 2-2 draw in Guatemala City. Cuban midfielder Osvaldo Alonso played the role of hero as he scored both goals, including an 88th-minute equalizer that secured Seattle's passage into the tournament's second round.
Seattle's draw was one of two ties for MLS teams in Champions League on Tuesday, but it was the only one really worth celebrating. Toronto FC faced a plethora of key injuries, but still went into its match against UNAM Pumas needing a win to really help their chances of advancing to the quarterfinals. TFC looked capable of securing a much-needed win when Peri Marosevic notched a first-half goal, but Toronto's patchwork defense was beaten yet again, helping give UNAM Pumas a 1-1 draw in Toronto, leaving TFC with plenty of work to do to join Seattle in the quarterfinals.
By drawing Pumas, TFC will most likely need to beat fellow MLS side FC Dallas when the sides meet on Oct. 18 in the final group stage match. With Pumas set to face winless Tauro on the final matchday, a match the Mexicans are very much expected to win, TFC will need to beat Dallas at Pizza Hut Park to reach the second round.
Toronto will have a chance against FC Dallas given FC Dallas' recent struggles (the side is winless in six straight matches in all competitions), but it still won't be easy. Not with a shaky defense that has given up two or more goals in five of the team's past six road games.
Failing to advance wouldn't exactly be a shock for a Toronto FC side that has been awful for much of the MLS season, and have only shown flashes of improvement since a major roster overhaul this summer. The patchwork defense was lucky not to surrender more goals as Andy Iro and Ty Harden found themselves struggling to cope with Pumas' speed, which has become a theme for the TFC defense for some time.
Seattle's qualification has to be an especially satisfying accomplishment for the Sounders consdering the train-wreck last year's group stages were for them. Seattle lost of five of six group matches in 2010 to flop out of the competition in dead last in its group, raising serious questions about the team's quality.
Things are much different this time around, with the Sounders wrapping up an unbeaten road record in group play (2-0-1) that included the extremely impressive victory at Monterrey.
The difference has been the confidence of a disciplined defense and aggressive attack playing the best soccer in the team's three-year MLS history. Mauro Rosales has taken the
Now, instead of laughing stock, the Sounders will head into the quarterfinals as a real threat to make a deep run like Real Salt Lake made last spring. With Steve Zakuani likely to be back when the quarterfinals begin next year, and with Rosales expected to sign a new contract, Seattle would have to be considered a legitimate threat to be the first MLS team to win the current format of the CONCACAF competition.
It remains to be seen just which MLS teams will join Seattle in the Champions League knockout rounds, but for now the Sounders look well equipped to carry the flag for MLS.