Three weeks from today, Sounders FC hopes to play a meaningless game.
That will be a home match against Monterrey, Mexico, and Seattle’s last game in CONCACAF Champions League group play.
The Sounders can render that pairing practically meaningless with a win or a draw tonight at Comunicaciones of Guatemala. Either result will mathematically assure Seattle of advancing to the CONCACAF quarterfinals next year.
“The main thing is just to get through,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “And if you can get through in first (place in the group), all the better. We want to make sure that we can get through. Our schedule congestion is something where the sooner we know we’re through, the sooner we can make decisions appropriate to what we need to do in the other games.”
That could mean the luxury of using mostly reserves in the Monterrey match, which will be played four days before the end of the MLS regular season and the week before the start of the league playoffs.
Meanwhile, Seattle has plenty of ongoing schedule congestion. This will be the Sounders’ sixth game in an 18-day stretch, and it doesn’t stop here. On Saturday, they return to MLS action at New England. And one week from tonight, they will meet Chicago in the U.S. Open Cup final at CenturyLink Field.
This also is the second match of a three-game, 9,000-mile trip that began Saturday in Vancouver, B.C.
The Sounders took a 3-1 win there, but Schmid admits it came at the cost of long minutes for key players.
“My feeling was, let’s get (the Vancouver)win and then we’ll start worrying about (Comunicaciones later),” Schmid said after the victory over the Whitecaps. “Obviously we’ve got some tired bodies. So we’re hoping a couple of the guys who are back in Seattle injured – like Eric Friberg and maybe Roger Levesque – will be able to go by the time we get to Guatemala. (Alvaro Fernandez) is very close to being 100 percent healthy again. So, having those guys available gives us a little more choice. But the guys are going to have to suck it up for (tonight) because we want to get a result in Guatemala to advance.”
The Sounders opened their CONCACAF group stage with a 4-1 win over Comunicaciones at CenturyLink Field in August. That was the start of a 3-0 run in Champions League. However, after beating Herediano by a goal on the road, the Sounders were unable to duplicate that feat at home, suffering a 1-0 loss and falling to 3-1 in the competition.
That match serves as a reminder of how difficult it can be to win both ends of the two-game, home-and-home matches in the group stage.
“The team that loses the first game is always a little more motivated going into the second one,” Schmid said. “I think that’s an important aspect. This is a game that’s obviously very important for Comunicaciones: They’ve got six points. They know we have nine. They want to get the three points at home. It’s really a game that I think both teams want to get something positive out of.”
Sounders champions league gameday
SOUNDERS AT COMUNICACIONES (GUATEMALA)
When: 7 p.m., Estadio Cementos Progreso, Guatemala City.
TV: Fox Soccer.
HEAD TO HEAD: The Sounders won the Aug. 16 meeting, 4-1, in Seattle. The Sounders got two goals from Mike Fucito, one from Brad Evans and an own goal. Jairo Arreola scored for Comunicaciones.
NOTES: This is each team’s fifth match in group play of CONCACAF Champions League. Seattle (3-1) leads Group D with nine points, followed by Comunicaciones and Monterrey (Mexico), both 2-2 with six points, and Herediano (Costa Rica) 1-3 with three points. The top two clubs advance to the quarterfinals. Seattle is 15-6-9 in Major League Soccer. Comunicaciones is 5-3-4 in its domestic season. Among the Comunicaciones players who represent Guatemala in the CONCACAF Gold Cup are defender Carlos Castrillo, midfielder Jose Javier Del Aguila, forward Jairo Arreola, and goalkeeper Juan Paredes, while defender Adolfo Machado played for Panama. Comunicaciones was founded in 1949. 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.
QUOTABLE: “They want to get the three points at home, so that’s going to force them to open up the game a little bit. Hopefully, by them opening up the game, that will open up opportunities for us as well to attack.” – Sounders coach Sigi Schmid.
NEXT: The Sounders return to the MLS regular season at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at New England. They conclude Champions League group play Oct. 18 when Monterrey visits CenturyLink Field.
Don Ruiz, staff writer