Last season, CONCACAF Champions League introduced Sounders FC to meaningful international competition.
It was a rough introduction.
With that experience behind them, the Sounders are hoping to make better use of their second chance, which begins tonight with Comunicaciones of Guatemala meeting the Sounders to open group play at CenturyLink Field.
“It’s better because a lot of our players have not really played internationally in Central America very often, with the exception of a guy like Leo (Gonzalez, from Costa Rica),” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “So for these guys now in Year Two, they have an idea of what the travel is like. They have an idea of what the field is like. They have an idea of what the accommodations are going to be like. And that’s a big part of when you play in the CONCACAF region.”
Last season, the Sounders went 1-5 in group play and finished last in their four-team group.
“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.”
However, Schmid thinks the Sounders had an especially difficult road in the 2010 tournament – not only by being placed in a difficult group, but also having to play three of their first four games on the road, including the opener.
This season, the Sounders’ travel is more balanced.
After tonight, the Sounders visit defending champion Monterrey on Aug. 23, visit Herediano of Costa Rica on Sept. 14, get the return visit from Herediano on Sept. 20, visit Comunicaciones on Sept. 27 and conclude group play with a visit from Monterrey on Oct. 18.
The top two teams in the group will go on to the knockout round, when the tournament resumes in 2012.
It’s a busy schedule to juggle alongside the stretch run of the MLS season and the final rounds of U.S. Open Cup, but the Sounders say they’re happy for the challenge.
“It’s an international tournament, and we have the opportunity to play,” forward Fredy Montero said. “Certainly we’d like to do better in the Champions League than we did last year. I think it was a good learning experience for us.”
Comunicaciones earned its second Champions League appearance by taking the 2010 Guatemalan Aperture and 2011 Clausura championships.
Those were the 23rd and 24th Guatemalan championships for the Creams, their nation’s second most successful club behind rival Municipal.
In its Champions League debut in 2009-10, Comunicaciones advanced out of group play before being ousted in the quarterfinals by eventual champion Pachuca.
The Sounders return to MLS play Saturday at FC Dallas. Dallas also will provide the opposition when Seattle returns to Open Cup play Aug. 30 at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila.
“This game and the game in Dallas on Saturday are two important games for us and games that we want to win – both of them,” Schmid said. “So we have got to be focused, we’ve got to be ready. We don’t want to look past (today) and we don’t want to look past Saturday.”
Sounders midfielder Miguel Montano has been loaned to the Montreal Impact of NASL through the end of the 2011 season. Montano, a 20-year-old from Colombia, is in his second season in Seattle. He appeared in six games last season as a rookie and two league games this season. He has one goal and two assists in eight MLS Reserve League appearances. … Schmid said no determination has been made regarding forward O’Brian White’s setback in recovery from a blood clot issue that has kept him out of games since April.
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org twitter/donruiztnt blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer
Communicaciones at Sounders FC, 7 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel, 97.3-FM
Inside: Preview capsule. B10 SOUNDERS GAMEDAY
COMUNICACIONES (GUATEMALA) AT SOUNDERS FC
7 p.m., CenturyLink Field.
TV: Fox Soccer Channel. RADIO: 97.3-FM.
HEAD TO HEAD: First meeting.
NOTES: This is each team’s first match in the group stage of CONCACAF Champions League. The other teams in Group D are Monterrey (Mexico) and Herediano (Costa Rica). Each team will play the other clubs in the group home and away, and the top two teams in the group will advance to the tournament’s knockout round. … Seattle is 11-5-9 in Major League Soccer. Comunicaciones is off to a 3-1-1 start in this Guatemalan season. … The Comunicaciones’ coach is Ivan Franco Sopegno. The club features five players who represented Guatemala in the CONCACAF Gold Cup: defenders Carlos Castrillo and Elias Vasquez, midfielder Jose Javier Del Aguila, forward Jairo Arreola and goalkeeper Juan Paredes. Defender Adolfo Machado played for Panama. … The club was founded in 1949 in Guatemala City. Nicknamed “The Creams,” they are considered the second most successful club in Guatemala, behind rival Municipal. … Comunicaciones qualified for Champions League by winning the 2010 Guatemalan Aperture and the 2011 Clausura championships. Seattle qualified by winning the 2010 U.S. Open Cup and then advanced from the preliminary round by a 2-1 two-game aggregate-score victory over San Francisco of Panama. … Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso is ineligible because of yellow cards in the preliminary round.
QUOTABLE: “(Comunicaciones is) a pretty active, pretty energetic team. They’ve got some good team speed. The majority of their players are in that good age, between like 23-26. Having seen them play a few years ago, they seem to definitely be an improved team: a lot of energy, and they play with a lot of desire. … They’ve got some flank players who are quick and can dribble.” – Sounders coach Sigi Schmid.
NEXT: The Sounders return to league play at 6 p.m. Saturday at FC Dallas. Their next Champions League match is 5 p.m. Aug. 23 at Monterrey.
Don Ruiz, staff writer