SEATTLE – Short of being in midseason form, the Seattle Sounders are as ready as they’ll ever be, according to head coach Sigi Schmid.
An undefeated preseason, including multiple goals in each of the last five matches, has given the Sounders confidence coming into Wednesday night’s opening leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals at CenturyLink Field (10 pm ET; Fox Soccer).
What Seattle lack in match fitness, Schmid hopes they can make up in mental toughness against Santos Laguna of Mexico’s Primera División.
“It’s definitely a challenge for us,” Schmid told reporters Monday. “I think if we’re both in midseason form, it makes the challenge a little bit easier, but because those circumstances, the way they are makes it a little bit tougher for the American team in this round of this competition.”
The results bear that out, as no MLS team has eliminated a Mexican side in the knockout rounds since the switch to the new format in 2008-09.
“It’s going to take a little more of the mental fitness and a little bit of that mental willpower, and that commitment and dedication from our players to make up for a little bit of the lack of sharpness that we have at this point,” Schmid added. “I’m confident that our team can do that.”
Seattle’s preparations have been extensive. The Sounders attempted to approximate the rhythm of the CCL opener, playing on the last three consecutive Wednesdays. They managed to win each of those three contests, including a pair of victories over Mexican opponents Atlante FC and Jaguares de Chiapas.
Many of the starters went the distance in both of those matches, and Schmid has kept his proposed starting XI together since very early in the preseason.
“Now, it’s the important one,” said Mauro Rosales, who will likely be wearing the captain’s armband on Wednesday. “We have been doing many friendly games in the preseason, but this is the important one.”
Santos head into Seattle as the fourth-place in the Mexican top flight with a 5-2-2 record, having notched 17 points from nine matches. Los Guerreros figure to be without striker Carlos Darwin Quintero, who recently went down with a thigh injury. In his place, Seattle might see Oribe Peralta, who hit four times this past Saturday against San Luis in league play.
American Herculez Gomez might also start. The former USL Sounder notched his first start with his new club over the weekend, rounding out the scoring with a goal of his own against a struggling San Luis side – his second in two games.
On the back line, though, Santos may be a bit short as defender Rafael Figueroa did not make the trip after spraining his right knee.
Despite the long-term injuries to Steve Zakuani and O'Brian White, Seattle’s injury woes are limited. With the exception of Eddie Johnson’s hamstring and reserve goalkeeper Josh Ford’s knee injury, the Sounders come into the match fully healthy. Schmid revealed Tuesday that he would prefer Johnson to be healthy enough to start the second match, meaning third-year pro David Estrada will likely start alongside Fredy Montero on Wednesday.