The busy first week of March finished, for the most part, how the Sounders wanted.
Wednesday’s first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series ended a three games in seven days span. The Sounders downed Chivas Guadalajara, 1-0, on a goal by Clint Dempsey in the 78th minute at CenturyLink Field to give them two wins in that span.
Both of those victories came in the Champions League. Seattle shut out Santa Tecla, 4-0, on March 1 at home to clinch the two-legged series to advance them to the quarterfinals.
The one blemish was a 1-0 loss to MLS expansion LAFC last Saturday in the league opener.
The next challenge for Seattle is Game 2 of the two-leg playoff vs. Chivas in Mexico on Wednesday. Obstacles include the 5,000-plus foot altitude and the venue in Estadio Akron that is notoriously difficult on CONCACAF opposition.
“The altitude is just (mental). That’s OK,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “We’ve played at (Real Salt Lake), we’ve played at Colorado. That’s not an issue for us. We have been in big stadiums around the world, playing against (Club) America down there last year, we’ve played in Monterrey with a full stadium so we understand that it’s going to be difficult. But a lot of times, players on both teams can be inspired by the energy, even if it’s a (hostile) crowd, you still as a player sometimes, you get up for the game.
“I would say that Clint has been in a lot of stadiums where he might be on the opposing team but he’s a big-game player. Same thing with Nico (Lodeiro) with Uruguay and Roman (Torres) with Panama.”
Besides Dempsey, young players had a hand in the Sounders’ win in front of 42,885 fans.
Defender Jordan McCrary started the play that led to the goal with a through ball down the right wing side. Henry Wingo who had just subbed in five minutes earlier, caught up it and took it almost to the end line. He crossed it into the penalty area, Dempsey met it at the penalty spot and drilled a hard shot into the back left corner past goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota.
Dempsey nearly had another one just four minutes later with a wide-open net 8 yards on front of him. However, he put too much on the shot and sent it over the top.
“They fought hard and went for it and so did we,” Dempsey said. “Disappointed not to get more goals, I felt like I could have done better on two more of those opportunities but still happy with the win and the result.”
Sounders homegrown midfielder Handwalla Bwana made his first start against Chivas. The 18-year-old, who made his Sounders debut as a substitute vs. LAFC, drew praise from Schmetzer for his play.
“Handwalla, that was the surprise for all of us,” said Schmetzer. “The kid played great. He came on and didn’t have any fear of the game. There was no (hesitation that) this was Chivas. The game wasn’t too big for him.”
Bwana told reporters his hands shook as he tied his cleats in the locker room and his heart pounded as he walked out of the CenturyLink Field tunnel for the first time. He said he asked Dempsey for advice on how to calm down. He said Dempsey told him that he was here for a reason and just do what you did to get here.
“As a teenager, one second you’re over here playing with your age, you’re playing with normal kids,” Bwana said. “The next thing you’re playing with pros. It leaves me speechless. At the same, it shows me that all the hard work that I’ve put in is starting to pay off.”