Lineup questions? Fitness concerns? That's for the Seattle Sounders to worry about. Santos Laguna arrive into Seattle at full strength for Tuesday night's CONCACAF Champions League semifinal first leg (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
Unless manager Pedro Caixinha decides to rest players ahead of this weekend's domestic league match at Club Tijuana, expect the Santos regulars to take the field at CenturyLink Field as the club looks to take another step to a second straight CCL finals.
Their fourth-place position in the current Clausura table and a five-point cushion for one of eight playoff spots might give Caixinha a little more flexibility to field his best side in Seattle.
"We have a great desire to redeem ourselves for last year's tournament," Herculez Gomez told Santos Laguna's official site. "If possible, we want to take care of things in the first leg and not depend on the return leg [at home]."
Los Guerreros have been on a tear of late, only missing out on a club-record fifth consecutive Liga MX win thanks to a 93rd-minute Felipe Baloy own-goal that helped Querétaro steal a 1-1 draw this past weekend. In fact, the only match Santos lost in all of March came in the CCL quarterfinal first-leg trip to Houston, a 1-0 defeat suffered at the death.
While Santos steamroll the competition at the Estadio Corona — they're 4-1-1 in league play and 6-0-0 all-time at home vs. MLS clubs in CONCACAF play, including a 20-4 goal differential — they have stumbled on the road with a 2-1-3 mark in the current Liga MX Clausura season and a 1-4-1 all-time mark at MLS stadiums in official CONCACAF competition.
In order to hold any hope of advancing to the CCL finals, Seattle need to aim to do a lot better than the slim 2-1 win over Santos in their quarterfinal first leg at CenturyLink last year. The Sounders proceeded to get blasted 6-1 in the return match for a 7-3 aggregate elimination.
In addition to a different coach — Benjamín Galindo is now at Chivas Guadalajara — last year's Santos team played a 4-3-3 and fielded the likes of creative left-footer Daniel Ludueña and Ecuadorean Christian Suárez in their starting lineup. Both players are now at Pachuca.
Today's Santos attack may be slightly less explosive — 19 goals in 14 competitive matches in 2013 — and relies on the front duo of Mexican international Oribe Peralta (pictured above, second from left, has seven Clausura goals) and US national teamer Herculez Gomez (above, far left, four goals in Liga MX play) in the 4-4-2. They're supported by two attack-minded fullbacks as well as speedy left winger Darwin Quintero (above, far right) and Néstor "El Avión" Calderón on the right wing.
Steady and skillful central midfielder Juan Pablo "El Chato" Rodríguez is coming off a recent thigh injury, but didn't start on the weekend after missing a few training sessions. If he's not yet fully fit — he saw 30 minutes of action off the bench vs. Querétaro — expect the technical Spaniard Marc Crosas to fill in.
Projected Lineup: (4-4-2, left to right) Sánchez — Mares, Figueroa, Baloy, Estrada — Quintero, Rodríguez, Salinas, Calderón — Gomez, Peralta