SEATTLE – The formula has been simple for Santos Laguna against MLS sides in the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stages:
Try to snatch an away goal in the first leg north of the border and then pummel the opposition into submission when they arrive in Torreón, eliminating their MLS competition with a flurry of goals that makes Santos’ first-leg performance seem like an outlier.
But with the Seattle Sounders set to host Santos on Tuesday in the first leg of a CCL semifinal series (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), head coach Caixinha has made it clear to his players that he’ll have none of that this time around. Santos are playing to win, with away goals the reward for victory as opposed to the objective.
“This afternoon, I was speaking with a group of players and I spoke about that,” Caixinha told MLSsoccer.com following the team’s training session Monday night. “When [Santos] has gotten in the quarterfinals to finals, normally you never win playing away from your stadium because at some point in your heads you [said], ‘OK, we can do it at home, so there’s no problem with [not winning on the road].’ I tried to change that mentality, and tomorrow we hope that we can take a good result from here.”
A little more than a year ago, before Caixinha arrived at the Santos, Seattle knocked off their Mexican visitors 2-1 in the quarterfinal stage, prompting many to wonder if the Sounders might make history in the second leg. It was not to be, a 6-1 shellacking putting an end those hopes.
Santos followed the same pattern against Toronto FC in last year’s semifinals and the Houston Dynamo in this campaign’s quarterfinal series. Toronto managed a 1-1 draw before being blown out 6-1 in Mexico, while Houston pulled off a 1-0 victory at BBVA Compass Stadium before Santos waltzed to a 3-0 victory in the return leg.
True to form, Santos showed no visible signs of worry following their last-minute loss in Houston, pointing to the return leg as a day of reckoning. After all, they hold a 15-3 advantage at home against MLS sides. Confidence comes natural.
Still, forward Herculez Gomez knows Santos can’t afford to keep giving opponents hope after the first leg if they want reach the CCL final for a second straight year.
“We know that against a good club tomorrow, and we also know that the last time we were here, we didn’t come out on the winning side,” Gomez said. “But we knew how valuable that road goal was. It definitely gave us an advantage going into the second leg. We have the urge for vengeance, but I’m sure Seattle has the same urge.”
Of course, the 2013 incarnation of the Sounders is a bit different than the one that Santos faced last March.
This time around, Seattle are off to their worst start in franchise history, despite making history by knocking off Tigres UANL in the quarterfinals, and carrying injuries that could severely affect their ability to snag a result in front of an expected crowd of 20,000 at CenturyLink Field.
Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson, the players Seattle expected to lean on to find the back the net and provide the necessary cushion ahead of a daunting second leg, did not participate in full training on Monday and their statuses are unknown ahead of Tuesday night’s match.
Santos are paying close attention to their opponents, of course, but they’re not reading to far into current form, according to Gomez. They know from experience that Seattle can take care of business at home, especially if overlooked.
"I normally don't look at our rivals latest results,” Gomez said. “It's all on our mentality. .… I don't want to feed my team about [Seattle’s] results, but about what their values are. They are a team that can hurt you if you are not prepared for that. When a team is playing in two competitions, it generally pulls the chip out from one of them, and then focuses on the other. So, this is a semifinal and anything can happen."