CCL Preview: Sounders face the heat for prelims in Panama
SEATTLE — The Sounders are about to feel the heat. And the humidity, for that matter.
Seattle flew out Sunday with 20 players for their two-game road trip in the sweltering stadiums of Panama and Houston.
First up for the Sounders is a CONCACAF Champions League preliminary match against San Francisco FC of the Panamanian league on Tuesday (8 pm, Fox Soccer). The return leg of the two-game series is Aug. 3 at CenturyLink Field, and the winner of the home-and-away series wins a spot in the CCL group stage.
From the Central American country, Sigi Schmid takes his team directly to Houston for a Saturday match against the Dynamo. In both games, hydration and energy management will take primary importance.
“Lots of water, lots of Gatorade, lots of liquids,” Schmid said Saturday about adjusting to the heat. “It’s the situation that both our games are at night, so it obviously cools down at night somewhat, but playing in the heat and humidity will be something different for us.”
“It’s a challenge that we’ve faced before — we faced it last year and we were able to come through it.”
The weather forecast in Panama City calls for highs in the mid-80s and chances of thunderstorms all day on Tuesday. Seattle faced similar conditions last season in the preliminary round against El Salvador’s Metapán and managed to overcome a torrential downpour and abysmal field conditions to advance 2-1 on aggregate, with then-new signing Álvaro Fernández scoring the crucial goal.
In the Champions League group stage, Seattle’s luck changed. The Sounders finished last in group C with only one win in six matches. Improving on that finish is something that motivates this team.
“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. I thought that we were a little unfortunate, especially when we got to the group stage — having to play two of our first three on the road. That made it difficult for us.”
Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, O’Brian White and Brad Evans are not among the 20 traveling to Panama, but reinforcements could be called in during the trip, according to a report in the Seattle Times.
After initially being left out of the MLS All Star roster despite being voted into the first XI, Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller will fly directly from Panama to New York to serve as the third goalkeeper.
Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewWinnerMLS