Beat on the river: Sounders blow lead, fall to León in Leagues Cup final

© Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

It was fun while it lasted. The Seattle Sounders’ run in the Leagues Cup ended with a 3-2 loss against Club León on Wednesday. After beating two Liga MX clubs on the way to the final, the task of beating a third proved to be too much. Raúl Ruidíaz nearly had the lucky touch on a number of occasions, but try as he might he just couldn’t find the jackpot. In what is hopefully the team’s only time playing in the tournament as it currently exists, they leave empty handed.

The two sides went into halftime level despite a number of chances throughout the first 45 minutes. Léon looked like the better of the two sides, carrying 57% of possession through the half, but they struggled to generate chances for much of the half.

Seattle had the bulk of the chances in the opening phase, the best of which came from Fredy Montero’s free kick and Alex Roldan’s attempt from inside the area. But the best look at goal fell to León in stoppage time as they managed an open header from a corner kick that went wide.

The second half saw both teams make much more of their chances. Seattle opened the scoring with a goal by Cristian Roldan, and Ruidíaz nearly doubled the lead but his shot clanged off the post. Just over the hour mark León tied the game, and things fully flipped from there. Schmetzer did what he could to shift things with substitutions, but a penalty and a forced turnover and tenacious play saw what had once been a Sounders lead turn to a León win. Nico Benezet provided a late Sounders goal, but it wasn’t enough to change the game.

Key moments

10’ — Cristian Roldan shows off some excellent technique as he keeps the ball in along the sideline and giving the ball to Ruidíaz to send in a cross, but the danger is cleared.

20’ — Fredy Montero earns a free kick from about 20 yards out and takes it himself, just missing wide of the near post with a curling effort.

37’ — Alex Roldan carries the ball into León’s area and lets one rip with a clear look at goal, but his shot buzzes over the bar.

45’+1 — León get an open header on a corner kick as Montero picks up a player late and Stefan Frei is caught coming out for the ball, but the point-blank header goes wide.

48’ — Cristian Roldan scores! Jimmy Medranda is slipped in behind the defense by Ruidíaz, then hits a ball back across the goal that Roldan finishes first time with his left. 1-0 Sounders

56’ — Cristian Roldan blazes down the wing to give himself the space to play a cross for Ruidíaz, whose shot clangs off the outside of the post.

61’ — León evens things up as the Sounders defense gets pulled apart with a couple of passes to give the opponents an open look at the back post. 1-1

80’ — Shane O’Neill gives up a penalty with an unnecessary tackle. Ángel Mena buries the PK to give León the lead with his second goal of the night. León lead 2-1.

85’ — León adds a third as Frei makes an initial 1-v-1 save, but the ball slips away and the rebound is slammed home. León lead 3-1.

90’+2 — Nico Benezet gets a layoff from Will Bruin and his deflected shot cuts León’s lead to 1! León lead 3-2.

Quick thoughts

Sub-par: With a road game against Sporting Kansas City on the weekend, the prospect of potentially lifting a trophy on the strength of a nearly ideal starting lineup took a little bit of the edge off of the team’s loss to RSL last weekend. With that SKC game in mind, and the game slipping away, the wait to use substitutions to change the game was a genuine head-scratcher. We can quibble all we want about who should have come off and who should have replaced them, but the first subs not due to Jimmy Medranda taking a knock didn’t come until the first 78th minute. The subs Brian Schmetzer did make nearly proved enough to at least take the game to penalties, as Will Bruin and Nico Benezet combined for Seattle’s second goal in stoppage time, but it was too little too late. Not only do the Sounders leave Las Vegas without the cup, but with even heavier legs for the starters.

Cristian Roldan is very good: Cristian Roldan was, at least until León poured on the pressure and stacked up the goals, arguably the best player on the field in this one. His goal was very well taken, and he nearly set up another on Ruidíaz’s shot off the post with a very impressive run, but he was a nightmare for León’s left side all night. He also tied João Paulo for the most duels in the game with 15, and won an impressive 60% of his, and was just generally influential on both sides for Seattle. Roldan is understandably some ways out of the MVP conversation, but with games like this his case for being Seattle’s MVP is pretty strong. Hopefully, we see more of that down the stretch.

Oops: Seattle wasn’t all too far from adding another piece to their trophy case, and the final scoreline is probably reflective of the game itself. León pounced when they saw weakness, but although there were stretches where the whole team seemed to be a bit lost the fatal flaw was ultimately individual errors. Each goal had at least one player making a mistake that directly resulted in León putting the ball in the net, and while I don’t necessarily think that’s indicative of any particular weaknesses in the squad or even of the particular players, it’s likely to be a concern for Schmetzer and his staff. Mistakes can be corrected, but as the race for top of the West heats up and the playoffs approach, the margin for error is shrinking.

Did you see that?!?

This pass by @jimmymedranda, though #SoundersMatchday | #LeaguesCup

— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) September 23, 2021

Really, really hoping Jimmy Medranda’s not hurt.

He said what?!?

Schmetzer on regrouping: “We have to, that’s life.”

— Jeremiah Oshan (@JeremiahOshan) September 23, 2021

One stat to tell the tale

8 — All 8 of León’s shots came from inside Seattle’s penalty area.

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