The Seattle Sounders will prioritize Concacaf Champions League when they kick off the 2020 season, even if it means squad rotation early in their league schedule, GM and president of soccer Garth Lagerwey said at Monday’s CCL draw in Mexico City.
“I think we’re going to play our experienced group, by and large, in the Champions League; we’re going to respect our opponents that way. And we’re going to have to make do with what we can in MLS,” he said. “I do think we’re going to use some of our young players in these first couple months of the season in particular. Hopefully they swim and don’t sink.”
The Sounders were drawn into an opening-round clash with Honduran powers CD Olimpia and should they advance, will meet the winner of the Montreal Impact vs. Deportivo Saprissa series in the quarterfinals. And with CCL one of the few trophies that’s eluded the Rave Green over their decade in MLS, they’re eager to make a deep run.
“For a club like ours – I think it's our sixth Champions League, so we've seen every possible iteration of this tournament,” said Lagerwey. “For us, it’s about coming out, being ready and trying to come out of the gates strong and having a good team from the get-go. And again, whoever we play, hopefully we can beat them over two legs.
“I think our players are familiar with our opponents, I think they’re familiar with the tournament, they have big-game experience. Those are the kind of things that can help us.”
The veteran exec and former MLS goalkeeper confessed to feeling relief his club dodged an early matchup with Club Leon, the only Mexican side in Pot 2. That said, he nonetheless cautioned the Sounders could easily find themselves ambushed in Honduras if they’re not mindful of the tournament’s vagaries.
“The reality is, there’s no easy games,” said Lagerwey. “We played Olimpia just three years ago and it’s an incredible season down there in Tegucigalpa and it’s a really difficult opponent. You can get put away really quickly if you don’t take these things seriously, especially for us, starting preseason just Jan. 11 and only having a couple of weeks to prepare.
“It's a really good stadium and it's a really good fanbase and there's going to be a lot of support there, and it's going to be a difficult place to play.”
Earlier in the offseason head coach Brian Schmetzer suggested the club would spend time in Mexico in preseason in order to acclimate to the type of altitudes and environments often encountered in Champions League, and Lagerwey cited similar preparations as an ingredient in Toronto FC’s run to the 2018 CCL final.
“It’s something that we would like to do; there’s still logistics that we have to lay out, but certainly I think Toronto laid the blueprint for that going back to 2018 and the success they had, training at altitude, preparing to play teams at altitude,” he said.
However Lagerwey added that the latter may be less of a factor this year, with the bracket keeping Seattle away from Liga MX opposition until the semifinal stage.