It wasn't easy and it wasn't pretty, but the Seattle Sounders managed to squeak past San Francisco FC and into the group stage with a 2-0 win last night, giving them a 2-1 aggregate advantage. Seattle managed to get off 35 shots on the evening, but in a familiar scene the team struggled to put balls on target and finish chances. The Sounders dominance of the run of play was complete; in addition to the gaudy number of shots taken the Sounders had the majority of possession and the defense made Kasey Keller's life exceedingly easy. In a way Seattle's total control of the game made it significantly more frustrating; to dominate so fully and not advance would have been a serious blow to the team's confidence.
Seattle illustrated their superior quality through the performance, but that the team was unable to put things away well before extra time despite one of their better efforts in weeks is concerning. But it's worth noting that for the majority of the game (really up until the point the Sounders went ahead) San Francisco showed little to no interest in attacking Seattle's goal and used a tactical approach that saw 60% of their outfield players with primarily defensive responsibilities. And while it's something of a sports cliche to call out poor officiating, it has to be said that the performance of the referee in this match was absolutely atrocious. San Francisco's time wasting started very early on, yet the only player shown a card for the offense was Erik Friberg. There were also quite a few instances of red shirted players going down exceedingly easily and earning free kicks in dangerous situations. Poor refereeing is a fact of life in MLS and almost a guarantee in CCL play, but this performance went above and beyond. It's not a reasonable excuse for the Sounders struggles to translate their dominance into a more convincing total, but such appallingly bad performances deserve to have attention drawn to them.
In the end, this was much tougher than it should have been, but the Sounders are in the group stage and despite having to contend with defending CCL Champions Monterrey they're in a group from which they should expect to advance. The group stage kicks off on August 23rd when Guatemalan champions C.S.D. Communicaciones visit CenturyLink Field. Communicaciones should be Seattle's closest challenger for second place in the group, so three points in the opener would be a major boost-especially since game two is a trip to Mexico to face Monterrey.