TUKWILA, Wash. — The new CONCACAF Champions League format was designed mostly to limit travel. While the Seattle Sounders are cutting down on last year’s total mileage of about 25,000 – the team is making two fewer trips – the 15,000 miles ahead of them are still daunting.
For their first road game on Aug. 30 against Trinidad’s Caledonia AIA, the Sounders face a more than 8,500-mile round trip.
Their other road game, against Honduras’ Marathón on Sept. 19, is more than 6,000 miles and is the third-longest trip in the group stage.
That said, Seattle will take the improvement in their travel schedule, no matter how small.
“Maybe I sound a little bit greedy, but I don’t want to travel that far that many times,” Sounders defender Jeff Parke said in praise of the new format. “If you have to go down to Guatemala or Honduras two times, that’s a pain in the [butt], especially during our season. Those guys are in and out of season, less travel for them. Their countries are the size of [New] Jersey, it seems. We definitely have more travel, more wear and tear, so it takes more time, more energy out of us.”
That limited travel does come with some costs, though. Unlike last year, only the group stage winner will advance to the knockout stage, which eliminates just about all room for error.
“Being second doesn’t work,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said. “For us, compared to last year – I think we did really well on the road last year – what we have to do is get the wins at home. If we win at home and tie on the road, we’ll be where we want to be at the end of the day.”
The Sounders’ first chance to win at home comes on Thursday when they host Caribbean champion Caledonia (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer). With this being Caledonia’s first year in Champions League, the scouting report is a little thin.
“Nice name,” Schmid joked when asked what he knew about The Men from Morvant. “We’re actually putting our information together on them right now, so we’ve got some highlights already of some of their games.
“[Assistant coaches] Kurt [Schmid] and Ezra [Hendrickson], who’ve done some scouting down there, know quite a few of their players, so we’ve talked about some of their individual players. They’re physically a good team.”
Particularly noteworthy among Caledonia's squad is Jamal Gay, a 6-foot-2 striker who already has seven goals in 15 league games.
“He’s big and strong and powerful,” Schmid said. “They’ve got some good speed. They’ve got some good athletes, as well. They’re a team that’s scored goals in their league play. It’s not going to be an easy game because they definitely bring a good test to us from the standpoint of their speed and their ability to counter-attack, and the strength that they have up front.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.