The Seattle Sounders return to CONCACAF Champions League play on Tuesday with a lineup not all that different from the one that concluded group play five months ago.
Nine of the players expected to start this quarterfinal opener against Mexican giant Club America also were on the Seattle roster when they advanced out of CCL group play in September.
One of the changes registers as routine roster turnover: left back Joevin Jones brought in to replace Leo Gonzalez. The other, however, is seismic in both addition and subtraction: homegrown U.S. national team forward Jordan Morris starting at forward in place of two-time Sounders goals leader Obafemi Martins.
Seismic, apparently, everywhere except the Sounders’ locker room.
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“We haven’t really spoken about Oba at all,” Seattle captain Brad Evans said. “So from that standpoint, I think if we thought there was something missing, I think there would be more chatter. But the reality is, I think we’ve been extremely happy with Jordan.”
As a technical roster matter, Martins isn’t gone. General manager Garth Lagerwey repeated Monday that the transaction that has sent him across the Pacific Ocean to Shanghai Shenhua of China “is not formally and legally concluded.”
But as a practical matter, Martins likely has played his final game for Seattle. And he certainly won’t be in uniform Tuesday. In his place will be Morris, the Mercer Island native preparing to make his first appearance before the home fans.
“It’s a big game, but super exciting,” Morris said. “I’m excited to get out here in front of these home fans and play a game. They’re obviously a very good team, but I think we’re ready and excited to get going. … It’s going to be crazy. I’m excited. My family is coming to the game, and friends and things like that. It will be extra special.”
Morris is expected to start as one of three forwards in Seattle’s new 4-3-3 formation, alongside returning veterans Clint Dempsey and Nelson Valdez.
“I’ve always spoke highly of Oba, said that I loved playing with him,” Dempsey said. “If the move is finalized, I would definitely miss him. But it’s like anything else: You have to continue where you are. We still have a good group of players. It’s about everybody stepping up and making sure they want to be in that starting 11. We still want to do great things here.”
One of those great goals is becoming the first MLS team to win the CCL, which crowns the top club in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Last fall, Seattle advanced out of a group also including the Vancouver Whitecaps and Olimpia of Honduras. Their reward is a home-and-away aggregate-score series against top-seeded defending champion Club America, which already is seven games into its domestic season.
“It will be our first real game of the season, so we want to get off to a good start,” Dempsey said. “America is a good team. … They move the ball well, they pass the ball well. They’ve got players that can hurt you in the attacking third and pick up goals.”
The Sounders trained on CenturyLink Field’s new FieldTurf surface Monday. Several players said the pitch is thicker and truer that the turf they had played on for the previous four seasons. … Lagerwey announced the re-signing of midfielder Nathan Sturgis, who originally joined the club through its expansion draft and appeared in 29 games through the 2009-10 seasons. Lagerwey also confirmed that defender Damion Lowe, the club’s top pick in the 2014 SuperDraft, is away on trial with Minnesota United of the NASL.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS (USA) VS. CLUB AMERICA (Mexico)
7 p.m. Tuesday, CenturyLink Field
TV: FS1. RADIO: 97.3 FM
HEAD TO HEAD: First meeting.
NOTES: This is the opening leg of a home-and-away CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series. The advancing team will be determined by aggregate score, with road goals as the tiebreaker. The series will resolve March 2 in Mexico City. … Seattle qualified by winning the 2014 Supporters’ Shield and U.S. Open Cup, and advanced by winning the group also including Vancouver of Canada and Olimpia of Honduras. … Club America is one of the giants of Mexican soccer, having won a Liga MX record 12 titles. They are the defending CCL champions. … Club America stands fourth in its domestic league with three wins, one loss and three draws. … America lost goalkeeper Moises Munoz and forward Dario Benedetto to injury in their weekend league match, a 3-3 draw with Cruz Azul. The Sounders are near full strength and expected to field the same lineup they did Wednesday in their 4-0 friendly win over Los Angeles. … This will be the first match played on the stadium’s new FieldTurf surface.
QUOTE: “The most important thing for sure is to keep a clean sheet. If we can go down there having not given up an away goal here, I think that’s a priority. Winning is also important. Getting as many goals as we can is important. But … if we don’t give away a goal and win the game, that forces them to come at us down there and opens up possibilities for us to counter and get an away goal, which puts added pressure on them.” — Seattle coach Sigi Schmid.
NEXT: This series resolves at 5 p.m. March 2 at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. The Sounders begin their eighth MLS season at 4 p.m. on March 6 when Sporting Kansas City visits CenturyLink Field.