CCL Preview: Seattle to juggle fitness, cards vs. Monterrey

TUKWILA, Wash. — Since their first clash in this year’s edition of the CONCACAF Champions League back on Aug. 23, the Seattle Sounders and Monterrey have seen their fortunes go in slightly different directions.

Seattle parlayed their historic 1-0 win in Mexico into a strong run of form. They picked up the Cascadia Cup, the US Open Cup, qualified for the MLS Cup playoffs and clinched a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, an 8-3-1 stretch across all competitions.

Their Mexican counterparts haven’t faired as well, slipping to the middle of the table in the Mexican Primera División. Monterrey are 4-3-3 across all competitions over the same period and only 1-3-1 in their last five league matches.

But all los Rayados need in Tuesday’s rematch at CenturyLink Field (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer) is a mere point to ensure they will join the Sounders in the quarterfinals for a chance to defend their CONCACAF crown. And that, according to Sigi Schmid, makes them dangerous.

“When you struggle in one area, you want to be successful in another area,” Seattle’s head coach said at training on Monday. “It’s a different competition and something new. They’re defending champions and for them to put themselves into the quarterfinals is very important to their club.”

Monterrey’s deep roster will present a challenge to Seattle no matter who they bring north. With the Group D finale between Comunicaciones and Herediano not until Wednesday night, the only way manager Víctor Manuel Vucetich can ensure his team advances is by not losing.

Seattle, on the other hand, aren’t about to lie down and let Monterrey win the group as they try to maintain that hot form with the MLS Cup playoffs approaching. But Schmid will find Wednesday’s challenge to be complicated in looking to balance fitness, health and, as he points out, card accumulation.

According to tournament rules, any player who receives a second yellow card in any match will be ineligible for the next game – in this case, that would carry over to February’s quarterfinals. The Sounders currently have nine players sitting on one yellow heading into Wednesday’s match, including Mauro Rosales, James Riley, Lamar Neagle and Erik Friberg. That will limit Schmid’s lineup options as he tries to plan ahead for a high-stakes knockout match in the spring.

“We’ve got to put some guys on the field with yellows and make them aware of that,” he explained, “and maybe there are some guys we’re going to hold off because of that.”

Center back Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is one such player unavailable to Schmid after getting his second yellow card of the tournament in the 2-2 draw at Comunicaciones last month. But a player he does intend to use is Sammy Ochoa – the hero in Seattle’s come-from-behind win over San Jose this past Saturday. The Mexican-born former US youth-teamer spent five years with Estudiantes Tecos and has first-hand experience with the opponent.

“He’s obviously been in that league for awhile,” Schmid said of the 25-year-old, acquired in August. “He’s seen that team through a number of seasons, so he has a good feel for that flow and what their mentality is going to be like coming into this game.”