Flaco Fernandez
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Seattle's Champions League adventure begins in Panama

SEATTLE — After a disappointing performance in the group stage in the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League, the Seattle Sounders are eager to begin the 2011-12 competition. They’ll open with a home-and-home series against San Francisco FC of Panama in the preliminary round this summer.

After Thursday’s practice, the players reacted to their draw.

“There are some differences,” said Nate Jaqua, who played against San Francisco with the Houston Dynamo in 2008. “They probably won’t be as technical as a Costa Rican team, but they’ll work hard and we’ll have to battle when we go down there.”

The first leg will be played July 26-28, followed by the second leg Aug. 2-4. The first leg coincides with the July 27 MLS All-Star Game, which makes it very likely that no Sounders will be competing in the league’s midseason gala.

Should Seattle defeat San Francisco, they will advance to the group stage, where they will face current CCL champions Monterrey of Mexico, CSD Comunicaciones of Guatemala and a yet-to-be-determined representative from the Caribbean. That draw could be considered less challenging than last season’s group-stage draw, which saw both Monterrey and Saprissa of Costa Rica — two teams that reached the CCL semifinals.

“We definitely want to improve on our performance and get out of the group stage,” defender Patrick Ianni said. “That’s something we wanted to do last year and we let ourselves down.” 

In 2010, Seattle reached the group stage after a 2-1 aggregate victory over Metapán of El Salvador. The deciding game in that series was played in a torrential downpour in El Salvador, so Ianni knows to expect anything.  

“It’s tough, as you saw last year, tough conditions,” Ianni said. “We got the goal here [at Qwest Field] and then were able to get one down there through Álvaro [Fernández].”

On Wednesday, coach Sigi Schmid admitted he didn’t know much about the Panamanian team, but commented on the travel schedule his team faces. With Seattle tucked into the northwest corner of the United States, it’s inevitable that the Sounders will become accustomed to long flights. 

“I think our first game is at home in that series and the second game is on the road," Schmid said, "so that road game will make it a difficult one for us because we’re playing in Houston, then we’ll go down to Panama, then we go to Kansas City, then we come home and then our reserves go to Vancouver. So it’ll be some frequent flier miles and some passport stamps and things like that.”

Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said Thursday that due to MLS fixtures around the San Francicso game, he doesn’t foresee his team chartering a flight to Panama.

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