Seattle could do something next to impossible over the next few days, executing a high wire act in high wind against Mexico’s powerful Santos Laguna.
It could happen.
But if we’re being honest, there is no compelling reason to like the Sounders’ chances in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series that begins tonight in the Pacific Northwest. Kickoff on Fox Soccer Channel is set for 10 p.m. ET.
Sigi Schmid’s team is struggling mightily in MLS, anchored to the bottom of the Western Conference standings with one measly point from four matches. Last week’s early capitulation in Utah sounded the loudest alarm bells.
And there’s some butt-ugly history here, a painful moment that might just qualify as the worst memory for Sounders supporters since the club joined MLS in 2009. Seattle took a 2-1 lead to Torreon, Mexico, against this very same Santos side. Optimism ran high that Schmid’s Sounders could get the result and move on that evening last March – but the wheels flew off this moving vehicle spectacularly.
Santos tore the Sounders apart, brushing aside the visitors in a 6-1 result.
Credit the Sounders for putting that one behind them and going on to have a highly credible MLS campaign. But the team still wears the scars of that ambush in Torreon, and they will carry that baggage tonight, heavy with the knowledge that conceding so much as one goal at CenturyLink Field could undo this year’s Champions League efforts.
Odds of keeping the visitors off the board take a hit because steady goalkeeper Michael Gspurning is suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Considering his heroic play over the weekend, that’s a huge bummer for the 20,000 or so expected around the rave green ground for this one.
So Marcus Hahnemann, the longtime third-choice U.S. man, is on the spot tonight. That’s not bad. There’s no chance he’ll buckle beneath the weight of this thing, but his shot-stopping and ability to get off his line – good as it looked in preseason – won’t match Gspurning’s.
As for personnel in front of Hahnemann: Patrick Ianni remains out, which means Jhon Kennedy Hurtado will be back in the lineup at center back – and fans can only hope he gets his act together for this one. Hurtado was pretty bad in Saturday’s loss to Real Salt Lake.
At the other end, forward David Estrada appears to be out. That wouldn’t be such an issue except that Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins are questionable, too.
Again, it could happen. But Schmid’s team needs supreme focus in the back, plus something special on the offensive end in order to set up any reasonable chance in next week’s return leg in Mexico.