Seattle Sounders Steve Zakuani celebrates vs. Portland Timbers.

CCL: Seattle Sounders hope Santos Laguna series will help them improve MLS form

TUKWILA, Wash. — A popular pick to contend for the MLS Cup, no one reasonably expected the Seattle Sounders to find themselves winless and at the bottom of the Western Conference standings after the first month of the 2013 season.

The lone positive has been advancing to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. The Sounders are hoping Tuesday’s first leg against Santos Laguna (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer, live chat on can help kickstart their league form, where they’ve gone 0-3-1 so far.

“It helps, definitely,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid told reporters at training on Monday. “A couple years ago, we were going through a little bit of a struggle and the [US] Open Cup really helped us. We caught some good games there and started to move forward from that. Being in another competition maybe takes your mind off of it.”

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The last time the Sounders got off to a similarly slow start was in 2010, when they opened with a 4-8-3 record. Following a win over the LA Galaxy in the Open Cup quarterfinals, Seattle went on a 10-1-2 run in league play.

“We’ve been here before,” midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “The last thing we’re doing is panicking. It’s a long season and we’re going to turn it around for sure.  We have too much quality in this group, too much belief in this organization to stay where we are. We will turn it around, just a case of when and what we need to do to make it happen.”

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Following Saturday’s loss to Real Salt Lake, Schmid talked about a “disease” creeping into the team and that personnel change could be in the offing. Some of those changes could be forced. Michael Gspurning will miss Tuesday’s game with yellow-card accumulation, David Estrada is out with an eye injury and the availability of Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins has yet to be determined.

While some of the rhetoric had died down by Monday’s training session, there was still much talk about needing to bring a more consistent effort.

“I think the talent on our team is such that maybe we think the talent will get away with it and that hard work only when we need it,” Sounders midfielder Brad Evans said. “Unfortunately, the game requires 90 minutes of work. When we do that, you see the quality. We play good soccer and we switch the field. It shouldn’t take a goal down, two goals down for guys to switch on.”