TUKWILA — There’s nothing like a knockout match for your second game of the season. That’s the position the Sounders are in Thursday.
Seattle will welcome Honduran side F.C. Motagua to Lumen Field for the second leg of the CONCACAF Round of 16 series. After a goal-less draw last week in Honduras, the Sounders need an outright victory for the easiest path to advance.
“We have a chance to go through on our own terms,” Sounders midfielder Kelyn Rowe said Wednesday after training at Starfire Sports in Tukwila. “In these kinds of tournaments, it’s about performing in each game and having a game plan for that. So, we’re excited to write our own history in this one.”
Motagua, which has its full complement of first-choice players available for selection, has an advantage in having already started league play. But the Sounders, who don’t open their MLS slate until Sunday, will have reinforcements for the rematch.
Brazilian midfielder Joao Paulo is available for selection after needing more time to get game fit and midfielder Danny Leyva has healed from a leg injury. Nouhou could start at left back after completing a week of training with the team. He was limited to 26 minutes last week due to arriving late to camp because of national team play.
The Sounders also have a better idea of how a game will flow with new signee Albert Rusnak. The former Real Salt Lake captain started against Motagua, missing a sitter in the penalty box in the 22nd minute.
“The start of the game was a little slow, not so many touches, especially on the right-hand side,” said Rusnak, a versatile midfielder who played at right winger against Motagua. “As we all got into the game a little bit more, we started to dominate the ball possession and I was involved more, as well. The last 30 minutes I played in the middle and that’s where I felt the most comfortable.
“It was a tough environment to play in. It was a first time, for myself, being in Honduras and playing in a CONCACAF Champions League game. All those little things like the field, the weather, the humidity, everything played into a factor.”
There will be an approximate 40-degree drop in temperature for the Thursday night game. The field will be turf instead of choppy grass and there will be fans in attendance this go-round. Motagua was sanctioned by CONCACAF because of a December incident and had to play a closed-door game.
Seattle is hoping those subtle changes work in its favor. The club still needs to clear the stench of the playoff loss last year to RSL at home. The Sounders finished the 2021 season with a 2-1-2 record in their last five home matches, posting the victories in October.
Motagua isn’t a strong road team, but it presses high and is a quick team. Its best chance last week was midfielder Marcelo Santos hitting the crossbar on an attempt off a corner kick in the 13th minute.
“We’re expecting a similar match,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “There’s a lot riding on this as always. I wouldn’t say we’re putting any added pressure on ourselves. But it’s certainly not pleasant — we learned that lesson two years ago — not pleasant going out early in a big competition like this.”
In 2020, the Sounders lost to Honduran side CD Olimpia in the CCL Round of 16. No MLS team has won the regional tournament. Liga MX teams have won the past 13 championships.
“We know we’re good, we know we have quality,” Sounders keeper Stefan Frei said. “It’s just a matter of being able to put it all together. There’s precious little time to do so. We sense an opportunity, and this is a tournament where there’s still a bit of bragging rights in MLS — who will be the first one to do it? We have the squad and the opportunity, and we know that. We want to do well.”