Mauricio Diaz De Leon scored the first two goals of the night (photo by Chris Coulter, SoundersPhotos.com)
Tacoma, WA – The Sounders U-23 showed why they were regular season champions of the PDL Northwest Division with a 3-1 victory over Washington Crossfire in the 1st round of the PDL playoffs.
The Sounders U-23 added an old Sounder, Nate Jaqua, to their ranks as the entire squad was relied on to send them to the Western Conference Final Four. Mauricio Diaz De Leon scored two 1st half goals, before crossfire got an own goal to make the match 2-1 in the 54th minute. Dennis Sanchez added a third Sounders goal, 11 minutes from time to secure the victory.
The Crossfire threatened to jump out to an early lead in the 7th minute. A loose ball at the top of the box was struck first time on the half volley by Nik Besagno. His shot was headed for the net, but a diving Doug Herrick was able to get his hands to the ball and knock it wide.
After the early scare, the Sounders U-23 were first to score. They got on the score sheet in the 10th minute. Mauricio Diaz De Leon picked up the ball outside of the Crossfire box down the left side line. He struck a teasing ball toward the back post that initially looked like a cross, but the ball curled over the keeper’s head and into the side netting for the goal to put the Sounders U-23 up 1-0.
As the game progressed, the Sounders U-23 sent numerous crosses into the box, and in the 30th minute it nearly paid off. Darwin Jones controlled a long ball inside the box while turning his defender. Jones clipped a short pass across the mouth of the goal where Nate Jaqua was waiting. Using his height, Jaqua leapt into the air to catch the ball at its highest point and direct it on goal. Crossfire keeper Andy Holte dove to his left in time to save the chance.
Then in the 36th minute the Sounders U-23 broke through for a second goal. Jones once again found himself deep in the Crossfire box along the left side. He floated his cross toward the back post where Diaz De Leon was waiting. He poked the ball from point blank range. The Crossfire goalkeeper reached back and got a hand to it to knock it away, but the linesman ruled that the ball crossed the line to put the Sounders U-23 up 2-0.
A short time after, the Sounders’ strangle hold on the match was tightened when Crossfire’s Junior Sanchez was given a red card. Crossfire went down a man after Sanchez earned the straight red card for unsportsman like conduct. The red card stemmed from Sanchez’ tangle with Sounders U-23 defender, Michael Uyehara.
With an extra man the Sounders U-23 quickly controlled play at the start of the second half. In the 47th minute halftime substitute, Jamael Cox, found space behind the Crossfire defense with the ball at this foot, headed for goal. With his last touch he pushed the ball too far and the Crossfire keeper was able to race out of goal to make the save.
Then in the 54th minute the Crossfire pulled one goal back. The ball came into the box off of a Crossfire corner kick toward the back post. Thomas Chamaraud headed the ball back across goal where it took a deflection off of Sounders U-23 midfielder Nick McCluskey. The ball went straight for the side netting and into the goal for an own goal, making it a 2-1 game.
After an inspired effort from the Crossfire with just 10 men, the Sounders U-23 pushed their lead back to two goals in the 79th minute. Facundo Dipascuale received the ball in the box with his back to the goal. He faked right then slotted a pass to Dennis Sanchez just in front of the ball. Sanchez calmly controlled the ball and then tucked it into the left corner to make it 3-1.
That score held for the final ten minutes for the Sounders U-23 to book their ticket into the Western Conference Final Four. The Sounders will take on FC Tucson on July 21 for the semi-finals of the Western Conference Final Four. The semi-finals and Western Conference Championship matches will take place in Ventura, California over next weekend.