Seattle Sounders FC is simultaneously among the remaining top four teams in CONCACAF Champions League while also struggling among the winless bottom four teams in Major League Soccer.
After training Monday, several Sounders players expressed hopes that their home match tonight in the CCL semifinals might remind them of how good they can be and jump-start their MLS season next week.
“We’re in the final four of this entire region, so that’s a pretty good escape,” midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “It’s just a chance to kind of forget the 0-3-1 (record in MLS) and play this game that doesn’t have any bearing on what’s going on in the league.”
The Sounders’ 2-1 MLS loss at Real Salt Lake on Saturday remained very much on the players’ minds on the eve of their CCL match against Santos Laguna at CenturyLink Field.
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“It’s always good when you have a quick turnaround,” midfielder Brad Evans said. “There’s no time to lull in our current situation. It’s a tournament that we’ve been successful in, and our focus turns solely on that. … There will be a little wanting to wipe Saturday and the last couple of weeks off our minds, and hopefully get a good result.”
To do that, the Sounders will have to overcome more than the memories of their worst start to an MLS regular season.
The Sounders could be weakened up front where forward David Estrada (eye) is out, and starters Eddie Johnson (toe) and Obafemi Martins (leg) are questionable.
The Sounders also know they will be without starting goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who will serve a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation.
That will force veteran Marcus Hahnemann into his second start with the club he joined midway through last season.
“Marcus is an experienced goalkeeper,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “He’s been in a lot of big games. He’s been with the national team, he’s been at World Cups – not necessarily played in those games, but he’s been part of it – so he knows what big occasions are. He’s a quality goalkeeper.”
Hahnemann, 40, started Seattle’s 3-1 win over CD Marathon last October during CCL group play. The former Kentridge High School and Seattle Pacific University star led the Sounders to their Desert Diamond Cup title in the preseason; and he made seven saves in a 1-0 loss to Portland in an MLS Reserve League match last month.
“Every time I get to put on the shirt, it has huge meaning,” said Hahnemann, a Seattle native who made his professional debut in 1994 with the A-League Sounders. “And so now all of a sudden it’s Champions League. … It’s a huge deal.
“(The quarterfinal win against) Tigres was the first time a U.S. team has got past a Mexican team in a two-game series, and hopefully we can make it another time.”
The Sounders will try to do so against the same club that eliminated them from CCL last season. In the 2012 quarterfinals, Seattle won its home match against Santos, 2-1, but was blown out, 6-1, in the resolution game in Mexico.
The memory of that series will linger with the Sounders tonight as they try to balance the need to build a cushion for the challenging road leg while not stretching too thin on the defensive side in a competition that rewards road goals as the top tiebreaker.
“We need to get a good result at home,” Schmid said. “I don’t think we’re going out there saying ‘They banged away a lot of goals on everybody at their place, so we’d better get four or something like that.’ No, you can’t do that because you don’t want to leave yourself open.
“I think we want to win the game, put ourselves in a good position down there.”
SANTOS LAGUNA AT SOUNDERS FC
7 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: Fox Soccer. Radio: 97.3-FM
NOTES: This is the first game of a home-and-away, aggregate-score semifinal series in CONCACAF Champions League, the club championship of North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Road goals count as the first tiebreaker. The winner will advance to the final against the winner of the series between the Los Angeles Galaxy and two-time defending champion Monterrey. … Seattle and Santos reached the knockout rounds by sweeping their four matches in group play. … Marcus Hahnemann will make his second career start for Seattle with No. 1 goalkeeper Michael Gspurning out because of yellow-card accumulation. The Sounders also will be without reserve forward David Estrada (eye).
ABOUT SANTOS: The club was founded in 1983 and is located in Torreon, Mexico. This is Santos’ fourth CCL appearance, and it reached the final in 2012. Santos has won the Mexican Primera Division four times, Interliga once and Copa Independencia once. Key players are forwards Herculez Gomez and Oribe Peralta and goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez. The club features 11 current or former international players, including seven Mexican internationals.
QUOTABLE: “Herculez, Peralta and (Darwin) Quintero are very active up front. The three of them have pretty good freedom to go where they want to go, but they also do a good job of balancing each other off, so that makes them a dangerous team because they’re very flexible in how they attack.” — Sounders coach Sigi Schmid on Santos
NEXT: The series resolves April 9 at Estadio Corona in Torreon.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 email@example.com/soccer