GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — The coach of Comunicaciones, Seattle’s opponent Tuesday night in the CONCACAF Champions League, thinks Central American teams will continue to have their hands full when facing opponents with the characteristics of the MLS side.
In his postgame comments, Argentine tactician Iván Sopegno said that the strength, speed and skill of the MLS side made things difficult for his less physically gifted players.
With a late goal from midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle managed a 2-2 tie under a steady downpour in Guatemala City. The result qualified the Sounders for the knockout phase of the CCL and left the host team’s chances dangling by a thread.
“We played against a team that’s very strong and very fast,” said Sopegno. “They know how to play. When they move the ball, they move it strongly and intelligently.”
Sopegno credited Seattle’s strength and stamina over 90 minutes for the last-gasp result, suggesting that his players wore down after a long match against a physically superior opponent.
“Their aerial game is very potent, their physical preparation is great,” the coach said. “We who play football know that if we go up against that for 90 minutes and I collide, collide, collide, I’m going to come up short. Their physical state is excellent. We have players in these parts with other characteristics.”
But in a land where the old stereotype that defines American soccer as all strength and no skill is still widely subscribed to, the Comunicaciones boss stopped well short of suggesting that physical domination alone attributes for what he considers a gap between his team and the MLS side.
The long-time coach of the Cremas’ youth ranks said he feels MLS has pulled ahead of Central American teams like Comunicaciones — 24-time champions in Guatemala — in terms of ability to attract and field superior talent.
“It’s a team that plays really good football,” he said. “You have to recognize that and congratulate them. We have younger players, maybe not as ready. They ended with six or seven internationals on the field. We had five or six players developed from our Under-20s.”
With his team’s chances at advancing now depending on Seattle beating Monterrey on the last group match day — a game in which Seattle will have little to play for — Sopegno admitted his club’s CCL prospects are now bleak. Still, he said that even if competing at this level is a challenge, it was a great experience for his young team.
“We won’t give up,” he said. “We have to keep winning local championships and maybe we’ll get the chance again to taste this level of international competition. I want to keep winning to keep having these chances and keep cutting the distance. We tried hard, we put in a good effort. I’ll say it again, it’s not the same to collide with someone that’s 230 pounds as someone who’s 180. We were confronting another reality.”