TORREÓN, Mexico – The Seattle Sounders need at least a goal to keep their CONCACAF Champions League dreams alive, but they are in no hurry to get it.
Instead, their focus is on playing an “intelligent game.”
When the Sounders kick off the decisive semifinal second leg against Santos Laguna at Estadio Corona on Tuesday night (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), you can expect Seattle to try and minimize the amount of risks they take going forward. Yes, they need to get out of the 1-0 hole they are in after losing at home in the first leg last week, but the Sounders want to be “smart” to avoid conceding another while searching for that all-important equalizer.
“It’s important that we play a good soccer game, that we don’t go out there panicked and try to score goals because that’s not what it’s all about,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid told MLSsoccer.com following the club’s Monday training session. “1-0 gets us into extra time and they’re at home so there’s a little more pressure on them to maybe carry the game a little bit. We have to be smart, look for our opportunities and we’ve got to be a good counter-puncher, as they say in boxing.”
Part of what is driving Seattle’s approach against Santos Laguna is their performance the last time they stepped in Mexico. Last month, the Sounders played a hard-fought quarterfinal road game against Tigres UANL before ultimately falling 1-0.
The result was not what Seattle wanted on the day, but it showed that they have what it takes to contain a Mexican club that is capable of dictating the tempo for large stretches.
“The same tactics that we had in the Tigres game: Go out there and be organized for 90 minutes and try to defend well from top to back and try to catch them on the counter,” forward Eddie Johnson told MLSsoccer.com. “We know it’s going to be a tough game. This is why we play this game. We live for these moments and these are the semifinals. It doesn’t get much bigger than that.”
Johnson, who is coming off an injury but is expected to play in some capacity, admitted Monday that getting on the scoreboard early and taking the sting out of the expected rowdy crowd would be ideal. But the club is also keenly aware of the dangers of trying to force the issue.
“We just pushed too hard too early,” Schmid said about the 6-1 loss the Sounders suffered last year to Santos in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. “We came in here and they’re a very good counter-attacking team and we had some good opportunities and chances – one of their goals came right after we had a chance to score off a corner kick where they saved it on the line – and it’s important for us not to be naive.
“I think we learned, I think we showed down in Tigres that we could play a lot more disciplined, a lot smarter, and we sort of have to do the same thing but obviously with a better result.”
Midfielder Steve Zakuani, one of the fastest players in MLS, has fully bought into the patient philosophy, not just to get the result, but also to exact a bit of revenge for that overwhelming loss last year.
“You don’t want to rush the game. We don’t have to win the game in the first 15 minutes,” he said. “At the same time, we’ll play to what we can and we have our own strengths and need to focus on that. We came here last year and we didn’t do well at all, so it’s a good chance to redeem ourselves.”