CCL Preview: Rest could help Sounders in crucial clash

Santos Laguna vs. Seattle Sounders, March 14

Photo Credit: 
Getty/Mexsport

The Seattle Sounders caught a break from the schedule makers. Santos Laguna did not.

While the Sounders earned valuable rest by sitting out Major League Soccer’s opening weekend, their Mexican league opposition suited up against Puebla. Former USL Sounder Herculez Gomez led his team to a 3-1 victory with two goals as Santos moved into a tie for the top spot in 2012 Clausura, but one wonders at what cost the victory was achieved.

Santos Laguna played their starters again, putting hope in the Sounders’ minds that they may face a fatigued team in Wednesday’s deciding second leg of the CONACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

“They pretty much played their starting lineup,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said during a Monday conference call. “They had [Aaron] Galindo out, then he came on later in the game for [Santiago] Hoyos, but the rest of their team was pretty much the same.”

“Those guys have played a lot, hopefully that’ll help us, but when you’re in the middle of the season, you’re playing for important games, somehow the mental fitness takes over, as well, for these players,” he added. “I’m sure they’re going to be ready.”

Holding a 2-1 lead into the final leg, Seattle expect to face a motivated Santos Laguna squad. But the Sounders’ solid road record in the tournament and the league – they posted a 2-0-1 record during the CCL group stage last year and the league’s best away record at 9-3-5 – gives them confidence.

“We know that they have to beat us and I can tell you that nobody is scared to go down there,” said midfielder Brad Evans, who scored the game-winner during the first leg. “We have done well anywhere we played away from home last year.”

The home side will need to score at least one goal to advance, so the Sounders know they’ll have to withstand pressure. Schmid is preparing to counter the double-teams his players will likely face early in the match by preaching quick, crisp ball movement.

If Seattle can maintain their defensive integrity while still pushing forward, Schmid believes his team will be successful employing a “straight-up” style on the road.

“We have to make sure we defend as a collective – I think that’s the main difference [from the first leg],” Schmid said. “At home, maybe you’re going to take an additional risk when you’re attacking. When you’re on the road, sometimes you attack and when that attack breaks down, let’s make sure we get back instead of hoping we can steal a ball and attack again.”

“You just have to be a little more honest,” Schmid said. “When opportunities are there to attack, we’re going to take them.”

Schmid wouldn’t tip his hand on whether striker Eddie Johnson would start Wednesday night. If he doesn’t, third-year pro David Estrada will likely earn his second consecutive start after scoring the first goal of the series opener.