Sounders FC had one major consolation about its 7-0 loss to Manchester United last week: embarrassment aside, it was competitively meaningless.
That changes tonight in Panama when the Sounders meet San Francisco FC in an international competition that matters.
This is the first of a two-game aggregate-score road-and-home series that will determine which club advances to the group stage of CONCACAF Champions League. The return match will be played Aug. 3 at CenturyLink Field.
It is the same situation the Sounders were in last season, when they advanced against Metapan of El Salvador, securing a 1-0 result at home and then making it stand up with a 1-1 draw on the road.
“It helps,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said of that international experience. “Obviously the guys … know they can go on the road and they can get a result. We’re confident, always, in terms of what we can do on the road.”
However, that play-in success was followed by disappointment.
The Sounders were eliminated from their first international tournament in the group stage, going 1-5 and being outscored 11-6.
“Certainly we’d like to do better in the Champions League than we did last year,” Schmid said. “I think it was a good learning experience for us. I thought we were a little unfortunate, especially when we got to the group stage having to play two of our first three on the road made it difficult for us. But again, we’ve got to win the play-in games to get into the group stage.”
If the Sounders advance, they will go into Group D for home-and-road games with defending champion Monterrey (Mexico), Comunicaciones (Guatemala), and the winner of the preliminary-round series between Herediano (Costa Rica) and Alpha United (Guyana).
However, that happens only if they can get past San Francisco – a club Schmid admitted he began this week knowing little about.
“Great city … cable cars,” he joked. “Obviously, we’re gathering our information. … We’ve got some tapes, we’ve got some highlights of them, we have their roster and we know what they’re about. Their coach used to coach the national team in Panama. They’re a team that is pretty well organized. In the past it’s been a pretty straight 4-4-2, but we’ll see how it is. But since they haven’t played a lot of league games there’s not a lot that we’re going to be able to base what their new team looks like, so we’re going to have to adjust quickly in the game.”
Because all clubs qualify for this competition through their on-field accomplishments, the Sounders expect things will not be easy – especially not in the hot, humid conditions expected tonight.
“The Panama national team that I’ve played against in the past is very athletic, and I assume that San Francisco is exactly the same,” goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “We know that we’re going to have a difficult game. We’re going to have a team that’s going to be fast and big and strong, and we have to be ready for that.”
Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso was named Monday as one of six inactive MLS All-Stars. The game will be played Wednesday in New York, with the league stars facing Manchester United. Keller, who fans voted onto the First XI, will represent the Sounders at the game. … Former Sounders winger Sanna Nyassi was named MLS player of the week after scoring three goals in Colorado’s 4-1 win over New York last week. Nyassi played the 2009 and 2010 seasons in Seattle before going to Vancouver in the expansion draft and then being traded to the Rapids.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org