Sounders’ comeback would be historic

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comMarch 12, 2013 

Sounders FC will shoot for CONCACAF history tonight, trying to become the first Major League Soccer team to eliminate a Mexican club from the Champions League.

“Of course it would be a message,” Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning said. “The rivalry between the Mexican and the U.S. teams in soccer is … a huge one; and it would always be a great sign for U.S. soccer if we can beat the Mexicans because (in Mexico) there is just soccer there, so it would really hurt them. We want to make this possible.”

However, Seattle must make up ground to do it, because Tigres UANL takes a 1-0 lead into this resolution match at CenturyLink Field. Tigres have the advantage because they blanked Seattle in the first leg Wednesday, and the first tiebreaker in this aggregate-score series rates is away goals.

This is the Sounders’ third CCL appearance. In their debut, they didn’t get out of the group stage. Last season, they were eliminated by Mexican club Santos Laguna in the quarterfinals.

This season the Sounders hope to advance to the semifinal round — and beyond — stressed general manager Adrian Hanauer.

“We’ve always said we want to win trophies, and this would be a stepping stone on the way,” he said. “But it would be a big one to get past a team like Tigres — the best team in Mexico today. But we have our work cut out for us.”

But maybe less work than it might have been.

Tigres fielded their first team at home in the series opener. However, the team that traveled to Seattle reportedly includes a handful of regulars supplemented by reserves and youth-team players.

“There are still a lot of good players there,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “… It’s still a quality team.”

Schmid should be able to field something close to his first team, after MLS gave its CCL participants — Seattle, Houston and Los Angeles — the past weekend off.

Liga MX did not do the same for Tigres, who used most of their starters Saturday in a 2-1 win at San Juan.

Houston beat Santos, 1-0, in its series opener and will try to protect that lead Wednesday in its resolution game in Mexico.

“It’s getting a little closer,” said Sounders forward Sammy Ochoa, who played five seasons with Estudiante Tecos in Guadalajara, Mexico. “… It’s just different because the games in CONCACAF, we go down there to defend, they’re going to come up here to defend. So, it’s hard to compare.”

Seattle and Tigres each return to league play this weekend. However, Schmid indicated he will select the unit that gives him the best chance of advancing tonight and worry about Saturday’s home match with Portland later.

ADDED TIME

Midfielder Steve Zakuani (ankle) and forward David Estrada (ankle) trained Monday at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, although Schmid stopped short of committing to either playing today. Midfielder Shalrie Joseph (calf) and defenders Adam Johansson (knee) and Patrick Ianni (foot) are out. … The Sounders announced time changes for two home games: June 8 versus Vancouver begins at 7:30 p.m., and July 20 versus Colorado begins at 1 p.m. … Toronto forward Robert Earnshaw was named MLS player of the week after scoring both goals in a 2-1 win over Sporting K.C.

SOUNDERS GAMEDAY

TIGRES UANL (MEXICO) AT SOUNDERS FC

7 p.m., CenturyLink Field

TV: Fox Soccer. RADIO: 97.3-FM

Notes: This match will resolve the two-game aggregate-score quarterfinal series of the CONCACAF Champions League. Tigres won the first leg, 1-0, in Monterrey, Mexico, last week. The winner will be determined by most total goals, with road goals as the first tiebreaker. That means the Sounders will advance if they win by two or more. If Seattle leads 1-0 at the end of regulation, the series would be resolved in 30 minutes of added time, then penalty kicks if needed. Tigres advance with any other result. … Seattle reached the quarterfinal as a No. 3 seed by going 4-0 through the group stage last year. Tigres went 2-0-2, earning a No. 6 seed. This is Seattle’s third appearance in the CCL and its second trip to the quarterfinals. Tigres is making its CCL debut. … Seattle is 11-10-2 all-time in Champions League play, but 2-5 against teams from Mexico. … The Sounders will wear their new “Cascade shale” home kits for the first time. … Approximately 17,600 tickets had been distributed as of Monday afternoon.

Opponent: Tigres leads their domestic league with a 7-0-3 record, remaining Liga MX’s only unbeaten team. The club was founded in 1960 in San Nicolas de los Garza, Nuevo Leon. It has won three Mexican Primera Division, two Copa Mexico and two Interliga titles. Tigres qualified for CCL by winning the 2011 Mexican Apertura. Tigres are 1-0 against the Sounders.

Quotable: “It’s been a slow progress to get that recognition, but I think over the past few years (Major League Soccer) teams have gone (to Mexico) and proven themselves. … I think we’re going to have a good chance.” – Sounders forward David Estrada.

Next: The series winner advances to the CCL semifinal round next month against the winner of the Houston-Santos Laguna series. The Sounders return to MLS play at 5 p.m. Saturday when the Portland Timbers visit CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

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

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