Santos wins 1st leg of CONCACAF semis
SEATTLE -- By the time Herculez Gomez scored the game winner, he had long forgotten about the shot he didn't put into the net.
Gomez put in a rebound in the 54th minute, lifting Santos Laguna past the Seattle Sounders 1-0 in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals Tuesday night.
Santos Laguna, which reached the finals last year before losing to Mexican rival Monterrey, will host the second leg next Tuesday.
In the moments leading up to the goal, Santos Laguna denied the Sounders a scoring opportunity when goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez made a diving save of a shot from the top of the arc by Osvaldo Alonso.
Carlos Quintero quickly started a counterattack, taking the ball down to the top of the restraining arc at Seattle's penalty area. He sent a shot that Sounders goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann blocked. However, the rebound went out toward the left side of the box, where Gomez ran onto it and parked his shot into the upper right corner of the Seattle net.
"I was fortunate to get in on the rebound. It was just a blur," said Gomez, who was stopped on a first-half counterattack. "Any chance I can get to redeem myself is a good chance.
"That's part of being a striker is you have to keep working. They always say the next play is the most important play. So that's what I was looking forward to was the next play."
Gomez, a 30-year-old U.S. international, played briefly with the A-League Sounders in 2003.
Santos Laguna coach Pedro Caixinha was happy to be going home with the one-goal lead but said it could have been more, especially after his team smoothed out its play during the second half.
"In the first half, we were trying to improve control of the ball. At the beginning, it was difficult for us to have that control," Caixinha said. "We were not so aggressive going after ball. For the second half, we tried to regroup our cohesiveness so we could be more compact and go out there and control those spaces, control the ball, and take advantage of the areas that are open.
"We could have had more than one or two goals, potentially."
This game was a continuation of the early-season struggles for the Sounders. They're off to a franchise-worst 0-3-1 start in Major League Soccer play with just two goals scored. Their only victory of any kind since opening the league season March 2 was a 3-1 decision against Tigres UANL of Mexico in the deciding second leg of the CONCACAF quarterfinals at home March 12.
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid was much more pleased with what he saw in this game than he was after Saturday's 2-1 loss at Real Salt Lake in MLS play.
"We didn't play that poorly. Obviously, they're a very good team, and their front three is as dangerous a front three as you'll run into anywhere," Schmid said of Santos Laguna. "They got it in there a few times, but I thought for the most part, we held them at bay, which was pretty good.
"We worked for each other (tonight). We didn't pick and choose, and that's the important part of the game is you have to work all the time. ... If Santos is in our league, they're battling for the title. For us to play a team like them that's in form and in their season is good."
Hahnemann, the former U.S. national team keeper who came out of retirement to join the Sounders last fall after a long career in the English Premier League, saved four of Santos Laguna's 14 shots. Seattle fired 13 shots, two of which were saved by Sanchez.
The teams met in last year's quarterfinals. Santos Laguna won that series on aggregate 7-3 -- losing 2-1 in the opener at Seattle before rolling to a 6-1 second-leg victory at home. Gomez had three of Santos Laguna's goals in that series.