Commentary

Disaster for Seattle, L.A. in CCL

Updated: March 15, 2012, 12:10 PM ET
By Leander Schaerlaeckens | ESPN.com

On Wednesday night, the three MLS clubs still alive in the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League played their return legs in the quarterfinals. Away to Santos Laguna, the Seattle Sounders' 2-1 lead was overturned as they were taken apart in a 6-1 battering to drop the series 7-3 on aggregate. In Los Angeles, the Galaxy was upset by a cynical Toronto FC 2-1 in front of a piddling 7,500 fans -- because of a silly cap on parking space on weeknights -- to see it out of the tournament, too. Had anyone predicted that of the three MLS teams left only Toronto FC would survive?

(No, you didn't …)

Here's a closer look at what we learned.

[+] EnlargeSounders
Hans Maximo Musielik/Getty ImagesUgly scene: Away to Santos Laguna, the Sounders were taken apart in a 6-1 battering to drop the series 7-3 on aggregate.

Santos Laguna 6-1 (7-3 aggregate) Seattle Sounders

1. The Sounders' defense was diabolical

It's not often that a team ships six goals and can say the back line performed well, but after Wednesday night, the Sounders' four could be sued for defensive malpractice and gross negligence. The chief culprit was Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, who lost his man on Christian Suarez's, Herculez Gomez's and Carlos Ochoa's 1-0, 4-1 and 6-1 Santos goals, respectively, and let Oribe Peralta squirm away from him as he was yanking him to the ground for the Mexicans' 2-0 goal. Leo Gonzalez, meanwhile, vacated his spot on the left on Gomez's 3-1 and Jorge Estrada's 5-1 goal. Which isn't to say that goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who seemed to suffer from a chronic disinclination to close down the angles, did any better.

2. Seattle was taken out of its comfort zone

Other than from the 20th minute or so until halftime, Seattle had no sway over this game whatsoever. Santos pressed hard and high and pushed the Sounders out of the center of the park, never allowing them to build their usually dynamic game exploiting the entire width of the field. This negated Fredy Montero's ability to drop back and make the play behind his fellow striker, a key ingredient to the Sounders' attack.

3. Herculez Gomez has set fire to his former club

Gomez scored three goals in two games against the Sounders, which loaned Gomez from the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2003 while the club was still in the minor leagues and its current coach, Sigi Schmid, decided he wasn't ready for Major League Soccer. So much for that theory. Gomez has demonstrated the kind of soccer talent that MLS coaches never were able to coax from him. In so doing, he cranked up the volume on the outcries for his re-inclusion into the U.S. national team. Surely, Jurgen Klinsmann can't ignore him now.

4. The balance of power isn't about to shift just yet

If Seattle had held on to its win, the Sounders would have become only the second American professional team to win a competitive home-and-home series against a Mexican team. (Sporting Kansas City beat Santos in the then-CONCACAF Champions Cup in 2002.) Santos, which is in a shared first place with Morelia in the Mexican league, is a sizable cut above the Sounders, one of the best teams in MLS.

5. Alvaro Fernandez is a real find

The Sounders snapped up the mop-topped Uruguayan after the 2010 World Cup, paying a rare transfer fee to acquire the winger, now 26. In his tentative early months, he looked like a bust, given the expectations rationally coupled with his designated player status. In 2011, he appeared more comfortable and made a strong contribution to his team. So far in 2012, his performances suggest he might grow into the Sounders' best player -- if not one of the preeminent players in all of MLS. Against Santos, Fernandez was splendid in the air, scored the team's only goal in the 37th minute, showed great touch and movement, took on opponents with verve and was, frankly, the only Sounder who could hang with his opponents.

[+] EnlargeDavid Beckham
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesThe Galaxy have had a rough start to the season -- a draw and two home losses.

Los Angeles Galaxy 1-2 (3-4 aggregate) Toronto FC

1. There was little honor in Toronto FC's tactics, but …

Aron Winter's men clearly hadn't any intention of demonstrating the aesthetic and spatial merits of the 4-3-3 they have been working on for more than a year now. Playing three central defenders, two wing backs and a perilously high line, they hoped the linesman was on their team for offside calls. They ceded the Galaxy enormous amounts of space to dump balls over the top. And Toronto got away with it too, save for two occasions when Mike Magee escaped, failing once and seeing his goal wrongfully disallowed the other time. After the excellent Ryan Johnson had put Toronto ahead with an arcing header over his defender, Tommy Meyer, and goalkeeper Josh Saunders, Winter took off an attacker and added another lock on the defensive door. The Galaxy equalized in the 54th, when Landon Donovan broke through and squared the ball for Robbie Keane, who never got a chance to finish thanks to Ty Harden's own goal. Winter quickly added attacking midfielder Luis Silva but when Johnson again escaped Meyer and set up Nick Soolsma's 67th-minute winner, the Dutch manager took out striker Danny Koevermans for yet another defender, riding out the rest of the game.

[+] EnlargeMike Magee
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesMike Magee's wrongfully disallowed goal was a big turning point in the match.

2. The disallowed goal was huge

In the 27th minute, Magee was played through by Keane by a ball over the top. The flag-happy linesman wrongfully disallowed Magee's goal for offsides even though Ashtone Morgan played Magee onside -- and right in front of the official, no less. Had this goal stood, the complexity of the game would have changed altogether. Toronto would have needed two goals and the Galaxy could have forced Toronto to take the initiative. Instead, TFC's park-and-poach policy was kept in play.

3. Is a crisis brewing in Los Angeles?

For a team that was expected to crush its opposition, the Galaxy have looked worryingly frail. Without the injured Omar Gonzalez, the defense is a shambles, and chances aren't being taken by the team's attack. After just three games this season -- a draw and two home losses -- it's far too early to speak of anything more than a slow start, but the Galaxy had hoped to hoist the CONCACAF Champions League. Or at the very least push past TFC.

4. Frings is contradicting convention

A hard lesson learned in the hazardous designated player game is that a pricey DP slot is best not expended on a defender. But TFC's Torsten Frings is defying that notion. Along with the masterful Milos Kocic, he prevented L.A. from running away with this game. He distributed the ball skillfully and organized a line, personally intervening on plenty of occasions when things seemed to be going pear-shaped.

5. Santos will destroy TFC

Wednesday was a nice night for Toronto, a franchise short on achievement and long on disappointment. But after seeing what Santos did to Seattle -- a side we can all agree is more seasoned and well-rounded than Toronto -- we might lose considerable collagen in our collective faces from all the wincing we'll do when it faces Santos in a tie over two legs that could be plenty painful for TFC.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at leander.espn@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderESPN.

Leander Schaerlaeckens

Contributing writer, ESPN.com
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a contributing writer for ESPN.com. He has previously written for The Guardian, The Washington Times and UPI.