By Ridge Mahoney
For most of us, goals are sexy and shutouts are not, yet both are equally important in a two-game series.
In three Concacaf Champions League games played this week, MLS teams -- including two playing away from home -- conceded a combined total of just one goal. That rarely happens when MLS teams get to this stage, the quarterfinals, and while the dynamics of each series are different, posting shutouts is a good foundation for success. Foreign clubs have been blanking MLS teams for years in crucial games and if the league’s representatives are to someday win this competition they need the capability and confidence to put up a zero.
Houston needed 89 minutes to break through at home against Santos Laguna, and it’s not likely that Brad Davis’ excellent goal will be enough when the Dynamo plays its away leg next week. (Seattle went down to Torreon last year with a 2-1 lead and got smashed, 6-1.) Blanking any good team on its own field is a huge task, and there needs to be a shrewder game plan than simply bunkering in, yet as the old cliché goes, the pressure builds rapidly on a team that must score as it fails to do so. Both teams know that if no goals are scored, the series is over.
Seattle lost away to UANL Tigres, 1-0, and has to feel somewhat confident of overturning that deficit Tuesday at CenturyLink Field. The Sounders got some fine saves by Michael Gspurning and stalwart games from Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Brad Evans. Yes, Seattle needs to score, yet its task will be a lot easier if it can keep Tigres off the board. If the Mexican team gets an away goal, the Sounders need to score three to overcome the away-goals tiebreaker. Time and time again, it’s been the opponent, not the MLS team, that has pitched a crucial shutout, even on the road.
When Monterrey topped Real Salt Lake, 1-0, at Rio Tinto Stadium to win the 2010-11 Concacaf Champions’ League final on a 3-2 aggregate, much consternation arose over RSL’s failure to score a goal. Had RSL tied that match, 1-1, it would have advanced on away goals by virtue of its 2-2 tie in Mexico.
But had RSL not conceded a goal at home, it would have won the series whether or not it scored. Humberto Suazo struck in first-half stoppage time and RSL couldn’t reply. Monterrey kept a close watch on Alvaro Saborio and Javier Morales, and Fabian Espindola missed a few opportunities missed. Despite conceding two goals at home in the first leg, Monterrey won the title by shutout.
Luck plays a role as well, as the Galaxy and Herediano confirmed Thursday night in their 0-0 tie. A goal by Mike Magee was incorrectly disallowed for offside and three shots -- Magee for the Galaxy and Ismael Gomez, ona penalty kick, and Cristian Montero for the Costa Rican team – came back off the crossbar. Going back to Home Depot for the second leg, the Galaxy doesn’t have an away goal but is dead even on aggregate.
The Galaxy came out to defend with mixed success. Keeper Carlo Cudicini needed to make just one save yet was clearly beaten on both shots that hit the woodwork and also looked terrible on a couple of crosses. Omar Gonzalez played a strong game in central defense and midfielder Marcelo Sarvas also showed poise at Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero, where a crowd of only 4,314 attended.
A lot more fans should be on hand for the second leg Wednesday at HDC, though capacity is limited for midweek games due to the stadium’s proximity to the Cal State Dominguez Hills campus. Like Seattle, the
Galaxy needs to score, and its task will be simplified by not conceding an away goal to Herediano.
It would be hard to convince a non-fan that three games producing just two goals could be dramatic, yet each series is balanced differently because of those two goals, and what each team can do by posting a shutout.
One of my high school football coaches reminded us every chance he got that, “If they don’t score, we can’t possibly lose!” That isn’t always the case in soccer (see Seattle), but it’s a damn good start.