By Money Mike
The Seattle Sounders have spent almost two months preparing for what is already considered their biggest match of the season. There are times for friendlies. This sure as hell is not one of them. The Seattle Sounders take on Santos Laguna in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Quarter final at home this Wednesday at 7pm. Santos recently just fell short of the Primera Division de Mexico Apatura title, falling to Tigres de la UANL in the Championship and right now they're halfway through their Clasura campaign, currently sitting in forth place. The Sounders, coming off three straight first round exits in the MLS Cup playoffs, have made some big moves during the offseason to avoid a forth straight early exit from the playoffs. Odds are going to be against the Sounders for this matchup with Santos, but this team looks stronger right now than they were in the playoffs last season.
It's a tough thing for any MLS club. Having to go through the quarterfinal stage of the Champions League before kicking off league play. Columbus and Real Salt Lake faced eachother in the quarterfinal round last year with RSL winning that one 4-1 on aggregate, but what's different though is that RSL had a Champions League semifinal match before kicking off their MLS campaign. Fortunately for them, they managed to advance to the final before coming up short to Monterrey.
The chances of an MLS club making it to the Champions League final this year are about a 3/4 chance because the winner of this match will face the winner of the LA Galaxy and Toronto FC who will also face eachother on Wednesday in the first leg at the Rogers Centre in Toronto which is of course where the Toronto Blue Jays play, and I heard that match has been sold out. I don't expect a big crowd at CenturyLink Field for the Sounders first leg match, but what I will tell you guys is that I will be there to catch the match in person.
Players to watch:
Oswaldo Sanchez - If you're a U.S. soccer fan, you should remember this guy. He's played for the Mexican national team in so many big match against the U.S. At 38-years of age, this guy still hasn't missed a beat. Every match whether it's a preseason match or a Primera Division match, the Champions League, the Copa Libertadores, etc. He's got one thing on his mind and that is to keep his team in matches. No mistakes here for the Sounders, they need to test him early. For a guy at such a high caliber, make him work early in the match and put your opponents under a lot of pressure.
Oribe Peralta - Now this team had a bit of a blow losing striker Carlos Quintero to a thigh injury, but let's not forget about Peralta. Normally, he would play midfield and score around five to seven goals in a season, but this year, he is absolutely killing it. This season, he is leading his team in goals scored, including four goals in this years Champions League campaign. So this was an easy pick right here as one of the players to watch. Quintero would've been a threat in this series, but I see Peralta as a much bigger threat to the Sounders back line. The centerbacks better be ready because if they get caught napping, he's going to make them pay.
Seattle Sounders FC:
Adam Johansson - Here's another easy one, our new right back. Not that James Riley was bad during his tenure at right back with the Sounders, but Johansson is much better defensively in that position. He can also provide a good attacking option for the Sounders. In the last preseason match, he made a lot of good attacking runs, his passing has been good, he assisted on the first goal and defensively with his speed, he can shut down the wide midfield players/wingers. I like his quickness getting up and down the pitch. That's what he did all preseason and that's basically what the Sounders have been searching for during the offseason. Now he just needs to continue that trend here in the Champions League all the way through the MLS season.
Fredy Montero - There are games where this guy struggles but Seattle still ends up winning those games, but in this one, I personally think Montero needs to have a good game from start to finish and that goes for the 2nd leg down in Mexico on March 14th. As good as he's been here in Seattle, there have been times when he's made some silly mistakes. If Montero can limit the mistakes and pick up where he left off late in the 2011 season, then I think Seattle would have a better shot a pulling off the victory in the series.
Again, Santos will be without Carlos Quintero for at least the first leg of this series. Some reports are saying he'll be out for about three weeks which would mean he would miss the second leg as well. With him out, I'm expecting Herculez Gomez, who played for the Sounders when they were a USL club in 2003, to get the start up front alongside Oribe Peralta. However, they also have Ecuadorian international Cristian Suarez who they can put up front as well.
The Sounders starting 11 will have three new faces. One of the three of course is our new goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who has had a solid career and will be our starting goalkeeper for a long time. Then you have Eddie Johnson partnering up front with Fredy Montero. Again, people have been bitching about the Sounders acquiring him for Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle and seriously, they all need to shut the hell up because we all know Johnson is going to proove them wrong this season and Sigi Schmid did have a legit reason for acqiring Johnson. And of course it's great to have Mauro Rosales back after a late season injury last season that ruled him out for at least the RSL series, but that ended up hurting us because we were missing the veteran presence, the leadership, everything that he brought, we had to try to make it through without him and unfortunately we were unsuccessful.
All in all, I'm really excited about the match on Wednesday, it's going to be a great game but more importantly, I'm really excited about the new season. This team is ready to compete with the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake for the West. The fans are gonna arrive in full voice every game and proove, just as always, that Seattle is the #1 Soccer City in America. It's going to be an exciting year and I'll be talking more about that within the next few days.