Sounders need win vs. Purple Monsters in Central America

Soccer: A loss in Costa Rica likely would end Seattle's hopes in CONCACAF Champions League

September 14, 2010 

As any Northwesterner knows, cloudy can shift to sunny in an instant.

Or, the rain can stick around for quite a gloomy long while.

Sounders FC faces something similar tonight at Saprissa of Costa Rica.

Win, coach Sigi Schmid says, and the Sounders could be right in the thick of things at the midpoint of CONCACAF Champions League group play.

Lose, veteran goalkeeper Kasey Keller says, and there’s no realistic way through to the next round.

“No question we need to win some games if we want to advance in this competition,” Keller said this week. “… If we lose this game, then it becomes probably three reserve games after that.”

Seattle goes into the game at the bottom of four-team Group C. The Sounders opened with a 2-0 loss at Marathon (Honduras) and followed with a 2-0 home loss to Monterrey (Mexico).

That puts them six points behind Monterrey and three behind Marathon and Saprissa, and the distance between Seattle and one of the top two spots needed to advance would become all but insurmountable with another loss tonight.

However, the forecast would shift from cloudy to sunny with a Sounders victory.

“We have zero points, there are a couple of teams with three, and there’s one team that has six,” Schmid said. “And if that team with six wins their game, and we win our game then you’ve got three teams with three. So, I think that would put us right in the thick of it.”

That scenario not only would put the Sounders in a three-way tie for second place, but it also would give them something of an advantage with two of the final three rematches at home.

The question is: Can they get that franchise-first win in meaningful international competition?

Keller thinks they can, after opening the tournament with what he considers a misleading pair of losses: 2-1 at Marathon and 2-0 at home to Monterrey.

“We’re frustrated because the two games that we have played, we comfortably feel that we could have four points by now, and we have none,” he said. “But as Sigi stated: If Monterrey wins at home and we win (tonight), we’re right back in this thing. We can beat this Saprissa team, there’s no doubt about that.”

Saprissa is one of the most successful clubs in the CONCACAF region. It opened Champions League with a 1-0 loss at Monterrey, but bounced back with a 4-1 home thrashing of Marathon.

But despite Saprissa’s better results against both common opponents, the Sounders say they have no doubt they can go onto the Purple Monster’s home pitch and resurrect their tournament chances.

They’re also realistic enough to acknowledge this could be their last chance to do so.

“If we get beat (tonight) it’s ‘good night,’ ” midfielder Steve Zakuani said. “We have to go in there and fight. I don’t think it’s an issue of belief with this team. We believe we can go in there and win. If we do win … it’s possible to have three teams on three points. With that, it’s back in our hands, and we’ll have two of our last three games at home.”

ADDED TIME

Advance ticket sales already have assured that the Sounders will set an attendance record for a U.S. Open Cup final when Columbus visits Qwest Field on Oct. 5. The club announced Tuesday that more than 22,000 tickets have been sold, topping the record 21,583 that attended the 1929 final. The record in the tournament’s modern era (since MLS began participating in 1996) is 19,164. … MLS announced Tuesday that Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales has been suspended one game and fined $250 for “unsportsmanlike actions which endangered the safety” of Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso in their Thursday game in Seattle. The incident was unseen by the officiating crew, and Morales was not disciplined during the match. ... Forward Alan Gordon was voted MLS player of the week after assisting both goals in Chivas USA’s 2-0 win over New England on Friday.

Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer

SOUNDERS GAMEDAY

SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC AT CD SAPRISSA

7 p.m., Estadio Ricardo Saprissa; San Jose, Costa Rica.

TV: FSC. RADIO: 97.3 FM.

ABOUT THIS COMPETITION: CONCACAF Champions League is a tournament involving top clubs from North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Seattle qualified by winning the 2009 U.S. Open Cup. Group play consists of six games, with each team in the four-team group playing the other three both home and away. The top two finishers in each group will advance to the knockout rounds. Through two games, Monterrey leads at 2-0, Saprissa and Marathon are 1-1, and Seattle is 0-2. Marathon visits Monterrey at 5 p.m. today.

ABOUT SAPRISSA: Deportivo Saprissa was founded in 1935. The club is called El Monstruo Morado: the Purple Monster. Its home stadium – nicknamed the Monster’s Cave – seats 23,112 and is the rare Latin American stadium using an artificial surface. Saprissa is the most decorated club in Costa Rica, having won the league 29 times. The club also won five Central American titles and three CONCACAF Champions Cups. This is its third consecutive Champions League appearance. Saprissa qualified as Costa Rican Verano champions. The manager is Roy Myers, who made 45 appearances with the Costa Rican national team. Team captain Victor Cordero is a former national team defender who has been with Saprissa for 18 seasons. Josué Martinez scored twice in the club’s most recent league match.

NOTES: Saprissa is 3-3-2 this season in the Costa Rican Primera Division, while the Sounders are 9-9-6 in MLS. … Sounders starting left back Leo Gonzalez is from San Jose, Costa Rica. … Sounders defender James Riley (ankle) did not travel, but there is a chance he could be ready when the Sounders return to league play Saturday at Columbus. Designated player Blaise Nkufo (knee) also did not travel. However, designated player Alvaro Fernandez rejoined the Sounders in Costa Rica after spending a few days in Uruguay to celebrate the birth of his first child, a son.

NEXT: After the MLS game Saturday at Columbus, the Sounders return to Champions League play Sept. 22 at Monterrey (Mexico). Saprissa’s return match in Seattle is Oct. 20.

Don Ruiz, staff writer

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