Seattle’s match against Saprissa tonight could be viewed as meaningless, except that Sounders0 coach Sigi Schmid doesn’t seem to believe such a thing exists.
Saprissa’s visit to Qwest Field could help determine whether Saprissa or Marathon advances to the knockout rounds of the CONCACAF Champions League.
And it could determine whether the Sounders finish alone in last place.
But most of all, Schmid sees it as another chance for his young players to pick up international experience and become better players, which he views as useful for the rest of this Major League Soccer season and for the club’s return to Champions League play next year.
“It’s a building experience for those players, for sure, so it is important,” Schmid said Monday after his team finished training at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila. “Any time we can test those players in front of a crowd, with a real game with a real atmosphere – rather than a training game against a college team here – is a benefit to them and a benefit to our team – it makes our team better. As you make your team better, you make practices better. As your team becomes deeper, practices become more competitive. As practices become more competitive, we become better as a team every day.”
By traditional measures, the game means more to Saprissa, which would earn a trip to the next round with a victory.
The Sounders already know they can’t advance. In fact, they need a win tonight and a Marathon loss to Monterrey on Wednesday simply to have Marathon join them in the Group C basement.
“I don’t think we are a last-place team,” Schmid said. “I know that’s what the standings say, but I don’t think we are a last-place team. So it would be nice not to finish in last. But it is what it is: We are not going to advance. It doesn’t matter where we end up since we are not advancing. All that matters is that we learn from this year and we need to incorporate our lessons into next year when we play in the Champions League again.”
Heading into the final week of group play, Monterrey (4-0-1) is assured of winning the group. Seattle is 1-4 and last.
However, the teams in the middle – Saprissa (2-2-1) and Marathon (2-3) – both head into these final games with shots at advancing.
Saprissa can punch its ticket with a win tonight. However, anything less would allow Marathon to pass the Purple Dragons with a win Wednesday against Monterrey.
That means Marathon has an interest in Seattle putting up at least as good an effort as it did last month when it defeated Marathon, 2-0.
“Our obligation is to ourselves,” Schmid said. “Every time we step on the field we want to win. The team we put on the field against Marathon certainly won. It’s not like that team is going to be much different in this game. We are not trying to shirk our responsibility. We are committed to winning every time we step on the field. It’s a great learning experience for our team, but we also have to be smart on the same token and not play injured players (or) overwork our players at this stage in the season.”
That’s why Schmid is expected to rest most of his regulars tonight in advance of their MLS regular-season finale Saturday at Houston. The Sounders could still finish anywhere from fifth to eighth in the MLS playoff standings, and each place will affect their matchup in the first round, and potentially both opponent and home-pitch advantage if they advance to the second.
Sounders midfielder Steve Zakuani was selected MLS player of the week Monday after recording a goal and an assist in Seattle’s 2-1 win over Chivas USA on Friday. Starting defender Patrick Ianni was held out of training Monday while recovering from an ankle injury suffered Friday. Schmid said the injury does not appear to be serious.
CD SAPRISSA AT SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC
7 p.m., Qwest Field
TV: Tape delayed at 1 a.m. Wednesday on Fox Soccer Channel. RADIO: 97.3-FM.
ABOUT THIS COMPETITION: CONCACAF Champions League is a tournament involving top clubs from North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Seattle qualified by winning the 2009 U.S. Open Cup. Group play consists of six games, each team in the group playing the other three home and away. The top two finishers in each group advance to the knockout rounds. Monterrey (4-0-1) already has clinched to the top spot, and Seattle (1-4) cannot advance. However, the No. 2 spot is still up for grabs between Saprissa (2-2-1) and Marathon (2-3). ... Seattle already has qualified for the 2011-12 Champions League by defending its U.S. Open Cup title.
ABOUT SAPRISSA: Deportivo Saprissa was founded in 1935. It is the most decorated club in Costa Rica, having won the league 29 times. The club also won five Central American titles and three CONCACAF Champions Cups. This is its third consecutive Champions League appearance, qualifying this season as Costa Rican Verano champions. The club’s nickname is El Monstruo Morado: the Purple Monster. Its home stadium in San Juan, Costa Rica, uses an artificial surface.
NOTES: Saprissa won the earlier meeting, 2-0, on its home pitch. ... Seattle is 14-9-6 in MLS after beating Chivas USA, 2-1, at home Friday. Saprissa is 4-6-3 in the Costa Rica Primera Division after falling, 4-3, at Perez Zeledon on Saturday. ... The Sounders are expected to go with a largely reserve lineup. Starting defender Patrick Ianni is likely to be held out while recovering from an ankle injury suffered Friday in the 2-1 win over Chivas USA. However, leading scorer Fredy Montero is expected to play after becoming ineligible for the regular-season finale Saturday at Houston due to yellow-card accumulation. ... Sounders left back Leo Gonzalez is from San Jose, C.R. ... Tickets remain available.
NEXT: Seattle plays at Houston at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Don Ruiz, staff writer