By JASON MITCHELL
SEATTLE, Wash. – It might not have been the usual Seattle crowd or the most meaningful match, but for Marcus Hahnemann it sure felt good to be home.
“The training has been great,” said Hahnemann, “I’ve been getting sharper every day, but to actually get out on the field was awesome.”
Coming off a decade spent playing in England’s first and second divisions, Hahnemann made his first start for his hometown MLS team Wednesday night in the Seattle Sounders’ 3-1 CONCACAF Champions League win over Honduran side CD Marathon.
It was a solid performance on a mostly quiet night in front of an announced crowd of just 7,874. The one-time U.S. national team goalkeeper gave up a goal in the 37th minute on a play where his defense was badly beaten, but the Sounders were already leading 2-0 at the time. Hahnemann, a product of Seattle Pacific University, was rarely tested the rest of the night in a match Seattle mostly controlled. He did drop to his knees to stop a one-touch volley from forward Michel Brown in the 66th minute.
Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said he was pleased with the debut, adding, “I don’t think there’s a team in the league with two better goalkeepers.”
With a place in the quarterfinals already secured and an MLS match against the Los Angeles Galaxy Sunday night, Schmid fielded only three regulars—midfielder Steve Zakuani and center backs Jeff Parke and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. Despite being eliminated from the tournament and facing a Sunday match itself, Marathon mostly fielded its first team.
It didn’t matter.
Forward Sammy Ochoa opened the scoring in the 23rd minute, working around a defender to get on the end of a bouncing cross from Mario Martinez before cleanly finishing past goalkeeper Jose Mendoza.
Ochoa might be having a quiet season in MLS, where he has only one goal in eight appearances, but he lit up both Champions League and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, bagging four goals in CCL—good enough for second in the tournament—and three more in the Open Cup.
In the 27th minute, Steve Zakuani put the Sounders up 2-0, flashing the speed and skill that made him a rising star before breaking his leg last season. Blasting by midfielders with hands raised for offside, the midfielder out of Akron then faked Luis Castro so hard the defender fell to the ground, leaving Mendoza helpless against Zakuani’s short rocket.
Michel Brown netted Marathon’s lone goal of the night, getting on the end of a nicely weighted past from Tulio Vega before scooting a shot past Hahnemann to pull Marathon within a goal.
It was as close as Marathon would get.
David Estrada capped the scoring in the 76th, stepping up to a loose ball in the box and burying a shot into the top of the net.
For Seattle, the victory secures the third-seed in the quarterfinals, ensuring the Sounders will avoid Mexican heavyweights Santos Laguna and CF Monterrey. Santos Laguna eliminated Seattle from the 2011-2012 tournament, dropping the first leg 2-1 in Seattle before drubbing the Sounders 6-1 a week later in Mexico.
Seattle finished the group stage undefeated for the first time in team history, an accomplishment Schmid attributed to experience.
“I think the team’s gotten more mature, more cold-blooded at times—at the right times,” said Schmid.
And while acknowledging MLS Cup is his team’s main priority at the moment, Schmid made it clear his team has its eyes a CCL trophy as well.
“As we look already into next season,” Schmid said, “going into the semifinals of Champions League is something we want to achieve, and [to] get into the finals. It’s been a long time since a team from the U.S. has won that. If we can be that team, that’s something we’d be very proud of.”
For Hahnemann, the local kid who played for a lower-tier Sounders team in the mid-1990s before departing for Major League Soccer and the Colorado Rapids, the small crowd didn’t matter. Not on this night, anyway.
“It was 67,000 today,” he joked. “That’s what it felt like, 67,000. It felt pretty good. It doesn’t matter. You still have the [Emerald City Supporters]. I know there’s not as many of them, but they’re cheering the whole game, and we can all hear that. It doesn’t matter. It was an awesome experience.”
“I thought I was all done and retired and I was kinda happy with that,” Hahnemann added later. “But I’m glad Sigi wanted me to come back.”