SEATTLE – Can lightning strike twice? The Seattle Sounders sure hope so. Their regional lives depend on it.
Three weeks after sending Tigres UANL home with their tail between their legs as the first Mexican team to fall to MLS opposition in a home-and-away CONCACAF Champions League series, the boogeyman is coming to CenturyLink Field. And he’s no longer content to head back to his lair without a victory.
That would be Santos Laguna (10 pm ET; Fox Soccer, LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com), a side whose head coach should have sounded alarm bells throughout the Emerald City on Monday night when he proclaimed the club’s rope-a-dope strategy on the road was a thing of the past.
If Seattle hope to have any chance of eliminating Los Guerreros and claiming a spot in the finals for themselves, they’ll have to do better on Tuesday night than their 2-1 victory last March in the first leg of the CCL quarterfinals, a result that briefly galvanized the club but was rendered practically meaningless by a merciless 6-1 thrashing in Mexico.
Head coach Sigi Schmid knows it, even if he isn’t quite willing to publicly acknowledge it’s the only way forward.
“I don’t think we’re going out there saying, ‘They’ve banged away a lot of goals on everybody at their place, so we better get four,’ or something like that to make sure we’re up,” Schmid said. “You can’t do that because you don’t want to leave yourself open. I think we want to win the game, put ourselves in a good position [going to Torreón].”
Fine, perhaps Seattle don’t need four, a number quite possibility of their reach anyway with Obafemi Martins nursing a knock acquired with Nigeria and Eddie Johnson hobbled by a lingering issue with his big toe.
But at least two goals and a shutout? That’s practically a requirement if Seattle want to have any chance of playing for a place in the Club World Cup.
No matter what happens at CenturyLink Field Tuesday night, there’s a reason why hereto forth Santos has been willing to take a narrow loss or settle for a draw on the road in CCL play: They’re practically unbeatable at Estadio Corona in Torreón.
Since the competition officially became the CCL in 2008, Santos have played 20 games at home. They’ve won 19, losing only to Cruz Azul in the quarterfinals of the 2010-11 edition, and scored 71 goals in the process to rack up a goal differential of plus-54.
Even more damning for the Sounders, six of those games were against MLS clubs, which were unceremoniously pushed aside by a combined score of 19-3. Frankly, Torreón is where MLS’ CCL dreams go to face stark reality.
That isn’t to say all is lost before the first ball is kicked Tuesday night in Seattle, though. Hope may be fleeting, but it’s not extinguished just yet.
Seattle may be headed into the belly of the beast a week from now, but it turns out the beast isn’t nearly so formidable away from its creature comforts.
Santos’ road record since the inception of the competition is a pedestrian 5-11-4, with MLS teams contributing three wins and a draw in six matches. Even more incredible, Santos won just once away from home during the 2011/12 edition of the tournament on the way to the final, a 4-1 triumph in Colorado.
Crucially, the last two teams to knock Santos out of the competition – Cruz Azul and Monterrey – deprived Santos of an away goal. And although Houston matched that feat with a 1-0 victory at BBVA Compass Stadium last month, they couldn’t muster any attacking oomph in the second leg.
But those were Mexican sides accustomed to locking horns with Santos, sides with at least some previous modicum of success under the pressure they faced at the Estadio Corona. That can't be said about any MLS club.
So can this Seattle side, one mired in the kind of form that has them buried in the Western Conference basement, become MLS’ exception to the rule in Torreón? Can they take a multi-goal lead back to Mexico without the threat of an away goal deciding the tie? We shall see.
What is certain, though, is that the Sounders can’t afford to take their chances in Mexico without building a big enough cushion to buck history. Seattle have one chance at home, and they must take it.