As they look to solidify their perch atop the Western Conference table, the Seattle Sounders are one game away from competing for another trophy.
That's what’s on the line for Seattle's Leagues Cup semifinal bout with Liga MX's Santos Laguna, who they’ll host at Lumen Field on Tuesday (10 pm ET | ESPN2, TUDN). A victory would send Seattle to the tournament’s championship match Sept. 22 against Club Leon or Pumas UNAM at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
The Sounders are hoping to match the intensity they displayed in their Leagues Cup quarterfinal, which saw them dominate Tigres UANL with a 3-0 result on Aug. 10.
“We want to get to a final,” midfielder Cristian Roldan told reporters after training Monday at Starfire Sports Complex. “If we were playing Orlando tomorrow, we would want to win just as bad because it's another opportunity to win a trophy.
“I think we see it as essentially like a Europa League. It's slightly different than Champions League, there's not as many games. But all you have to do is win two games and you're in a final. That's what excites, I think, a lot of players and that's why you have to take it serious because at the end of the day you're playing two games at home before a final. If that doesn't excite you, then you're in the wrong business. So I think we're really excited for this and it doesn't matter the opponent.”
Tournaments like Leagues Cup that overlap with the MLS season invariably bring up debates around which players coaches should deploy while juggling fixture congestion. But Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer seemed to answer any questions about that in the Tigres matchup, fielding a full-strength starting XI.
With Raul Ruidiaz and Xavier Arreaga returned from international duty and the likes of Nicolas Lodeiro and Stefan Frei now healthy, Seattle enter with as healthy and deep a group as they've had all season.
“I don't have to do much to motivate them for games,” Schmetzer said. “I know you guys can say a final is different, a semifinal is different. There might be some inherent, maybe a little bit of subconscious – you get a little more excited for the bigger games. I agree with that.
“But as far as my messaging is concerned, as far as what we do out on the training field – we try and be consistent. We try and make them understand that at this club, with this organization, every single game matters.”
It’s all about capitalizing on advantages wherever they can be found Tuesday, which Roldan said starts with protecting their house.
Seattle halted a recent lull in home form with Saturday's 1-0 victory over Minnesota United FC. Schmetzer said it gave his team "a shot in the arm" before they hope to become the first MLS team to reach a Leagues Cup final. The LA Galaxy made the 2019 semifinals, then the 2020 version was canceled on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It's a big advantage for us, so making sure that we take care of business at home is really important and intensity is so important in these games,” said Roldan. “Like I said, they come on the road. Maybe the first 15 minutes for them a little sloppy, a little slow. But if we can pounce on them early and basically send a message that it's going to be a tough game for them, we can take advantage of this game.”