SEATTLE — Sounders FC’s goal of being the second MLS team to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League final became exponentially more difficult Tuesday.
Seattle, despite improved performance from the weekend, suffered a 1-0 home loss to Mexico’s Santos Laguna in the first leg of a two-game, aggregate-goals semifinal in front of 21,057 at CenturyLink Field.
The second leg of the series is Tuesday in Torreon, Mexico, where Santos is 6-0 against MLS teams in the CCL with a 19-3 goal differential.
The Sounders, for that matter, are 0-3 on the road this season in all competitions.
“Now we have to go down there and play pretty much a perfect game,” said coach Sigi Schmid. “But that’s not impossible. It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible.”
The lone goal Tuesday came from a familiar foe, forward Herculez Gomez — a U.S. international and former lower-leagues Sounder in 2003.
The play started when Seattle goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann saved a blistering shot by Santos forward Darwin Quintero, but Gomez slammed the rebound into the top corner of the net before the defense could react.
Gomez had three goals against the Sounders in a 7-3 aggregate win in the 2011-12 CCL quarterfinals and has been particularly dangerous against MLS teams. Earlier in the game he was heckled by a chant of “Sounders reject!” after a miss.
“I love it,” Gomez said. “Being called a Sounders reject — any kind of reject — digs deep. It fuels fire. I didn’t have the easiest go at the beginning of my career, so any chance I can get to definitely redeem myself is a good chance.”
The strike was particularly devastating since goals scored on the road are the first tiebreaker in the tournament’s knockout rounds.
Seattle’s best chance to equalize came in the 65th minute, when forward Sammy Ochoa got behind the defense. But he took a bad dribble to the goal and then fired a shot so wide it went out for a throw-in on the sideline.
Sounders defender Zach Scott won a header in Santos’ penalty box in the 86th minute, but it was hit right to goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez.
“We still have to get better in the final third,” Schmid said. “There’s still a lack of movement when we’re getting into crossing positions and dangerous positions, so that’s something that we still have to work on.”
Comeback efforts were also hampered with three forwards unavailable: Obafemi Martins (knee), Eddie Johnson (toe/hamstring) and David Estrada (eye).
Schmid said the team hopes Martins and Johnson will be available for the second leg, and that will help with a goals-hungry approach needed to make up a series deficit on the road.
“It is a tough place to play, but luckily we get to go in there and give it our all,” said defender DeAndre Yedlin. “It’s all or nothing. We can attack, attack, attack.”
• Seattle’s next MLS game is April 13 vs. New England. A Sunday game against Chivas USA was rescheduled for Sept. 4 to accommodate Seattle’s CCL games.
• The other CCL semifinal starts Wednesday between defending tournament champion Monterrey of Mexico and the Los Angeles Galaxy.
• Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning was suspended due to yellow-card accumulation, forcing Hahnemann to make his second start.