Last year, Sounders FC took a one-goal advantage into Santos Laguna’s home stadium, and the Mexican club made it up and then some with a 6-1 victory.
This year, Seattle takes a one-goal deficit into Estadio Corona, and even coach Sigi Schmid understands that most soccer observers expect his team to be ousted from the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series tonight.
“That’s what everybody’s going to feel, and that’s normal,” Schmid said. “But we believe in ourselves, and we believe in our ability to do a difficult thing. Like I said before: It’s not going to be easy, but it’s not impossible.”
The Sounders certainly remember the mauling of March 14, 2012, when Santos scored in the eighth, 10th, 49th, 67th, 76th and 81st minutes in what still stands as the Sounders’ worst defeat and most goals allowed in any non-friendly competition.
Seattle isn’t alone in its difficulties at Estadio Corona. In this CCL competition, Santos has won its three home games by a combined score of 9-0.
“Coach always pounds it into our heads: nothing changes (on the road),” Sounders forward Eddie Johnson said. “The ball doesn’t change. The goal size doesn’t change. The pitch doesn’t change. It’s up to us at the end of the day: How much do we want it?”
Santos also stresses that nothing should be taken for granted.
“Our coaches have kept us pretty humble up until this point,” Santos forward Herculez Gomez said last week, after Santos opened the aggregate-score series with a 1-0 win in Seattle. “We know that we’re playing a good team, and they have done a great job to get here, so we have to respect our opponent. By no means is this already assured for the next leg.
“We still have a lot to play for.”
Both teams are playing for the same prize: a spot in the CCL final round against the winner of the Los Angeles Galaxy-Monterrey series, which resolves Wednesday in Mexico.
The Galaxy lost the opener, 2-1, in Carson, Calif., last week.
Santos gets there with a win or draw. Seattle needs a winning margin of two or more goals because road goals are a tiebreaker. A 1-0 win by the Sounders would even the aggregate result, and the series would be decided in extra time or penalty kicks.
Seattle is trying to become the second Major League Soccer team to advance to the final round, following Real Salt Lake in 2011.
To do so, it must become the first club to lose its home CCL semifinal match and advance by winning on the road.
However, the Sounders have been MLS trailblazers in this competition before. In 2011, they became the second MLS team to win in Mexico, taking a 1-0 victory at Monterrey.
And they reached this stage of the tournament by becoming the first MLS team to eliminate a Mexican club – Tigres UANL – this year in the quarterfinals.
In an effort to make its clubs more competitive in Champions League, MLS reworked its weekend schedule to free the Sounders and Galaxy to concentrate solely on CCL.
That could make Seattle the fresher team tonight. Nine of Santos usual starters played Saturday in a scoreless draw with Tijuana – all but defender Jorge Estrada and forward Oribe Peralta.
“(Forward Carlos) Quintero ended up playing 90 minutes – they tried to sub him out in the 93rd, I think,” Schmid said. “But nine of their 11 guys started. Herculez only went 55 minutes. … But obviously those (other) guys put another 90 minutes on their backs, so we’ve got to make sure that we can take advantage of that, possibly in the second half.”
CHIVAS TIME CHANGED
First kick of Chivas USA’s visit to CenturyLink Field on July 28 has been pushed back two hours to 8 p.m.
SOUNDERS FC AT SANTOS LAGUNA
5 p.m., Estadio Corona, Torreon, Mexico
TV: Fox Soccer. Radio: None
NOTES: This is the resolution 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. Santos won the opener, 1-0, in Seattle. Therefore, Santos advances with a win or a draw. Because road goals are the first tiebreaker, Seattle would advance with a win by any score other than 1-0. A 1-0 win by the Sounders would send the series into extra time and, if necessary, penalty kicks. … Seattle and Santos reached the knockout rounds by sweeping their four matches in group stage. In the quarterfinals, Seattle advanced with 3-2 aggregate win over Tigres, while Santos came from behind to eliminate Houston, 3-1. … Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning is eligible after missing the first leg because of yellow-card accumulation. … The Sounders will be without forwards Obafemi Martins (knee) and David Estrada (eye), while forward Eddie Johnson (toe/hamstring) and midfielder Brad Evans (calf) are questionable.
ABOUT SANTOS: The club was founded in 1983. This is Santos’ fourth CCL appearance, and it reached the final in 2012. Key players are forwards Herculez Gomez and Oribe Peralta and goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez. Seattle and Santos split two meetings in the 2012 CCL quarterfinals with Santos advancing on aggregate score, 7-3, including a 6-1 win at home.
QUOTABLE: “It’s nice to do unexpected things. I know Santos probably in the back of their minds doesn’t expect us to do it, so that might give us a little bit of an edge.” — Sounders coach Sigi Schmid on Seattle as underdogs
NEXT: The series winner meets the Los Angeles Galaxy-Monterrey winner in the CCL final round, starting April 24. The loser is eliminated. The Sounders return to MLS play at 1 p.m. Saturday, meeting New England at CenturyLink Field.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org/soccer