Club America the defending champion, it enters the match seven games into its domestic schedule.
The new turf installation at CenturyLink Field earned mostly positive reviews from the Sounders on Monday, eyebrows creeping upward with the realization that hey, that ball actually travelled in a straight line.
“Night and day,” Seattle captain Brad Evans said after the media-day practice. “ … I haven’t heard any complaints. It’s definitely softer. The joints are already feeling better, even after two days on it.”
There was but a single grumble: In some perverse way, the field that had gradually flattened to a moldy carpet over the past four years was a built-in edge for the team forced to play 17-plus home games on it a season.
“Last year’s turf was more of an advantage for us,” Evans said. “Teams were shell-shocked when they came in here.”
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And with mighty Club America coming to town Tuesday night for the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, the Sounders will need all the help they can get.
Not only is America the defending champion, it enters the match seven games into its domestic schedule. The Sounders, in contrast, haven’t played a meaningful game since bowing out of the Western Conference semifinals in early November.
The fall-through-spring CCL schedule isn’t the only reason no MLS team has won this version of the competition.
“Arguably, every MLS team has a tough start if you assume that the Mexican league is still arguably of higher quality one through 18, roster wise,” Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer said over the weekend. “They spend more money, and quality is a reflection of how much money you spend on players, to some degree. But we’re going to try to win it. We think we have a very good squad.”
Mexican teams usually treat the tournament with varying levels of seriousness, even in the knockout-round stages. Clubs whose league has won all seven editions of the CCL in its current format tend to dip their toe into first legs with tepid lineups to see how much they can get away with.
“The ultimate test is going down there playing,” Evans said, referencing the second leg March 2 at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. “We know we can get results at home. No matter who it’s been against, we’ve always gotten results here.”
Club America’s 3-3 draw with Cruz Azul on Saturday brought both good tidings and bad. Goalkeeper Moises Munoz and forward Dario Benedetto were injured and likely will miss Tuesday’s game. Forward Oribe Peralta and Darwin Quintero picked up red cards that carry over to Liga MX but not continental play — meaning there’s no use saving them for next weekend’s league match.
“The most important thing is to keep a clean sheet,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “If we can go down there having not given up an away goal here, that’s important for our team. Winning is important, as is scoring as many goals as we can. If we don’t give away a goal and win the game, that forces them to come at us down there and opens up the game.”
A 1-0 lead would put the Sounders in fantastic shape ahead of the away leg and, really, the Sounders would take any win of any score. They’d probably be more than happy with a draw, as well, provided that it’s low scoring and keeps the series within reach.
“We have to play smart,” Evans said. “It’s our first game with repercussions. You concede a goal, you find yourself digging out of that.
“It’s holding it to zero, because you want to give yourself the best advantage going down there at altitude, with that heat in Mexico.”