TUKWILA — Not that the Sounders are bad at math, but they’d rather not need to use it to figure out their fate in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Seattle hosts CD Olimpia on Thursday at CenturyLink Field in the second leg of the Round of 16 matches. Seattle put itself in good position against the Honduran side despite finishing in a 2-2 draw last week because away goals are the tiebreaker to advance.
In the aggregate-scoring format, a goal-less draw, 1-1 draw or outright Seattle win Thursday are the outcomes that would give Seattle the outright victory in the series. A 2-2 draw — well, now we’re into the math everyone wants to avoid.
“We want to win the game outright,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “We want to score first. We want to be on the front foot.”
For those not traveling to CenturyLink for the 7 p.m. match, you can watch on Fox Sports 2 but there will be no radio broadcast.
Here are some things to watch for:
Stop the crosses
Tucked underneath the Sounders’ 2-2 draw last week are some ugly stats.
Olimpia had the advantage on shots (21-15) and corner kicks (16-4). The most glaring was the 61-13 disparity in crosses. Colombian striker Yustin Arboleda headed a cross into the net for the 2-2 equalizer in the 81st minute.
“Central American teams tend to be a little bit more technical and maybe on the shorter side, maybe not revert to so many crosses,” Sounders keeper Stefan Frei said, alluding to Arboleda’s 6-foot-3 stature. “They (Olimpia) have some players up top that have some size. They realize that’s a strength of theirs, and they want to use that. It was a unique challenge to see them go for so many crosses. Now it’s a challenge for us — can we deny the service?”
Schmetzer said the week of training at Starfire Sports began with work on defending. The staff will also approach Thursday’s game differently in terms of tactics by lining up higher on the field and pressing higher.
The Sounders will have defender Yeimar Gomez Andrade, who signed earlier this month, for Thursday’s game. The Colombia native, who teamed with Xavier Arreaga on the back line in the first game against Olimpia, hadn’t secured his P1 Visa to enter the U.S. in time for training but was expected to arrive Wednesday afternoon.
“There were some miscommunications here and there,” Sounders right back Kelvin Leerdam said of playing along the back line with Arreaga and Gomez Andrade. “It can only grow.”
To play or not to play?
Thursday is Seattle’s first official match at CenturyLink Field since winning the MLS Cup in November. But Sunday is the Sounders’ MLS opener, also at CenturyLink, and will feature most of the festivities as the Sounders beginning the defense of their league championship against the Chicago Fire.
Having two big games in four days toyed with Schmetzer’s lineup strategy in past CONCACAF Champions League play. This time, the coach was adamant his staff is going with its first-choice players for both matches.
Not everyone is available. Midfielder Gustav Svensson is likely out for Thursday’s match due to a calf strain. Midfielders Nico Lodeiro (tendinitis) and Harry Shipp (illness) participated in parts of training this week and could see playing time.
The Sounders appeared to show reliable depth against Olimpia last week. Schmetzer began making substitutions in the 69th minute, putting Shane O’Neill on for Joevin Jones.
“I took Joao Paulo, our designated player, off and put (16-year-old midfielder) Danny Leyva on,” Schmetzer said. “That’s a pretty big statement, but the kid was ready. He played well.”
Olimpia is expected to be without captain Ever Alvarado and center back Jonathon Paz due to injuries suffered last week.
Replays showed Arboleda kicking Frei in the chest during a shot attempt in the 25th minute last week. CONCACAF hasn’t implemented the use of VAR (video assistant referee), so player and coach protests did nothing. Both players were shown yellow cards for arguing, and Arboleda stayed in the game.
It’s the second heated exchange between the clubs in Champions League play. But the Sounders don’t want it to be a trait.
“I’m hoping the game doesn’t manifest itself into some sort of wrestling, kicking,” Schmetzer said. “We want it to be a soccer match. … With some of the game and how this runs in CONCACAF, I’m hoping, again, that we’re able to keep our composure and let our soccer dictate how the tempo and what the game is going to be like.”
The Sounders announced they’ve retained broadcasting rights with Q13 and JOEtv, Univision Seattle, iHeartMedia Seattle and El Rey 1360 AM.
JOEtv is entering its third season airing all non-nationally televised Sounders home and away matches in Western Washington. The station also provides 30-minute pre-match and 30-minute post-match segments for each broadcast.
Streaming video options will be announced at a later date.