The Sounders enter amid their toughest run of form of the 2021 season, having gone 1W-3L-1D over their last five MLS matches, including a stretch of three home games that saw them take just one point. But in past years, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said he's noticed that strong performances in outside competitions can have a galvanizing effect, whether it's the US Open Cup or Concacaf Champions League.
That's exactly what Schmetzer hopes will manifest from Tuesday's quarterfinal matchup against a Liga MX side that won last year's CCL and made the final of the 2020 FIFA Club World Cup before losing to Bayern Munich.
"There's been plenty of Open Cup runs, exhibition games, Champions League competitions that have kind of spring-boarded us into a good showing in the second half of the season," Schmetzer told reporters at Starfire Sports Complex on Monday. "So, we'll try and do that. But regardless of the result, I think the guys understand we're in a tough stretch. But they'll respond, they'll rebound.
"For us as a club, regardless of whether it's US vs. Mexico or whatever, we always want to be competitive," he added. "I would say that the recent success that the national team has had against Mexico, that's certainly a good story if you're an American fan, but at the end of the day, we're Seattle Sounders. It's against Tigres, it's against Liga MX, we play in Champions League, so there's been plenty of games and storylines over the years about MLS vs. Liga MX. It just adds to the history."
It remains to be seen what, if any, role Sounders captain Nicolas Lodeiro will play against Tigres as the standout Uruguayan midfielder continues to recover from a knee injury that's kept him sidelined for most of the season. Lodeiro returned in Seattle's last match against FC Dallas as a late substitute, then said on Monday that he's feeling progressively more ready to take on a larger workload.
Regardless of whether he features, the 32-year-old Designated Player is eager to see how they stack up against Tigres.
"I'm very excited, it's also something that's motivating the guys, to be playing at this international level," Lodeiro said through a translator. "It's giving us more motivation to be playing a great team like Tigres. We're very excited we can keep participating in these types of tournaments that can also help elevate our international level of play."
The Sounders didn't compete in the inaugural Leagues Cup in 2019, then last year's version was canceled on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, they're vying for a spot in the September 22 final at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
"It's a big club, one of the biggest in Mexico," Schmetzer said of Tigres. "They're all excited, they're talking about it in the locker room. I think it's a good measuring tool for some of them. They're ready."
Sounders midfielder Kelyn Rowe said there's a novelty factor when facing an opponent from beyond MLS, while reinforcing that a positive performance and result can help recapture Seattle's early-season form. They started 13 games unbeaten while weathering injuries left and right, setting a new league record.
"It's exciting for us," Rowe said. "We obviously know that we haven't been on the best run, so we need to make sure whether it's league play or not, any game is a chance to get on a good path and get a win.
"I think it could be a great builder for the rest of our season."