About a year ago, Seattle Sounders FC decided to include CONCACAF Champions League matches in the 2015 season-ticket package.
The club hopes that decision plays off starting Wednesday, when CD Olimpia of Honduras arrives at CenturyLink Field, almost certainly facing a larger crowd than they would have otherwise.
"I think having our crowd there and supporting us is always very, very important," coach Sig Schmid said Tuesday. "I know that it boosts our guys up. And I know for Olimpia it helps get the atmosphere that is positive for us and creates more issues for them, makes them think that they’re playing away -- not only that they have to travel, but they can feel that they’re away because the crowd’s there."
The Sounders announced the decision last August – even before the club had officially qualified for this Champions League. If they hadn’t qualified, the first home playoff game would have substituted. If no home playoff match, the game would be credited to the 2016 season-ticket package.
That all become moot when Seattle won the 2015 U.S. Open Cup, earning a fourth trip to Champions League.
CCL games weren’t included with season tickets in any of the previous competitions, and it showed with home crowds ranging from a high of 23,433 for Santos Laguna in the 2011-2012 quarterfinals to as few as 7,767 for Caledonia AIA in 2012-13 group stage.
"Champions League is something that is really important to our club," owner Adrian Hanauer said last summer when the decision was made. "We’ve talked about wanting to be a global brand. In order to be a global brand, we have to win our region. … We’ve made it to the semis. We want to get to the pinnacle: win that and qualify for the world championships. We’ve got work ahead of us, but the best chance for us to win that is to have our fans engaged: behind us, enthusiastic, supporting us, making sure our home-field advantage is a true home-field advantage."
The Sounders are members of Group F along with Olimpia and Vancouver. The two MLS sides opened with a 1-1 draw Aug. 5 before a crowd of 19,683 at BC Place.
This will mark Olimpia’s opening match of the competition. However, the Lions are off to an 0-3 start in the Honduran National League, being outscored 8-3.
"That doesn’t mean anything right now," Schmid said. "Champions League is a whole different ball of wax. They lost one of their top players from last year, but they have (forward Roger) Rojas back with them who was out on loan. He hasn’t played any of the league games, so he’ll probably be available to them on Wednesday."
Seattle’s lineup also could be in flux. The Sounders went with all key available players Sunday in a 4-0 MLS win over Orlando City. They will likely want to do so again Saturday when they visit Real Salt Lake for a game important to the Western Conference playoff hopes of both clubs.
That could foretell a reserve-heavy lineup Wednesday.
"For a lot of guys, it’s an opportunity to play," said veteran Zach Scott, who is expected to start at center back. "Especially in these early rounds we get a lot of young guys in, a lot of veteran guys who are on the bottom end of the 18 get a chance for minutes. It’s very competitive games. Obviously South American teams, it’s going to be a lot of quick one-two touches, running off the ball, so we have to be conscious of that as we’re playing. But also coming out and playing Sounders soccer. That’s the biggest thing. Everyone’s excited to get the opportunity, excited to be playing in front of some home fans and excited to start this tournament."
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC VS. CD OLIMPIA
7 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: FS2. RADIO: 97.3 FM.
HEAD TO HEAD: First meeting.
NOTES: This is a Group F match of CONCACAF Champions League, the club championship of North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Group standings are Seattle 0-0-1, Vancouver 0-0-1, Olimpia 0-0-0. The three clubs in each group will play home-and-away games against the others. After four games, the group winner advances to the knockout rounds. … Seattle opened with a 1-1 draw at Vancouver. … Olimpia was founded in 1912 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The Lions have won 29 national championships. They also have six previous CCL appearances and advanced to the quarterfinals in 2010-11. Olimpia is off to an 0-3 start in the Honduran National League, being outscored 8-3. … Seattle coach Sigi Schmid praised Olimpia forwards Roger Rojas and Romell Quioto and central defender Johnny Palacios. … Seattle is 11-12-2 in Major League Soccer. … This is the middle match in a stretch of three games in seven days for the Sounders. A reserve-heavy lineup is expected. … Unlike previous seasons, Seattle’s CCL games are included as part of the Sounders’ season-ticket package. Individual-game tickets remain available.
QUOTE: "They’re very early in their season, so maybe they’re not as fit or a technically sound as they might be toward the latter half, like we are now. But that being said, they still have the tendencies of a South American team: They’re going to keep the ball on the ground, they’re going to play one or two touch, and they’re going to look to control the tempo. So we’re going to have to be smart about the way that we play, and also hit them with our speed." – Seattle defender Zach Scott.
NEXT: The Sounders return to MLS play at 7 p.m. Saturday at Real Salt Lake. Their next CCL match is Aug. 26 at Olimpia.