Let's not pretend Santos Laguna is a bad team. They are currently sitting in 4th on the current season and, with a 5-2-2 record and a +6 goal differential, the Mexican Primera team is probably better than their position suggests. They also have been quite good in their CONCACAF Champions League performances over the past two competitions, with a total record of 11-5-2 +25 GD. This is not just the most important game for the Seattle Sounders since joining MLS, it is one of the most difficult ones.
Santos do have a couple of weaknesses. They aren't that great on the road--both of their Clausura losses are away from Torreon. In CCL play over the last two tournaments, four of their five losses are on the road, including to the Columbus Crew in 2010. To compound this, they did not fly into Seattle until Tuesday evening and there may be some chilly, clear weather Wednesday night. There other weakness is in defense, particularly counters, more particularly against their left side, as SB Nation blog FMFStateOfMind founder Eben Lehman points out in this first 2012 edition of Three Questions.
SaH: How's Santos Laguna's form lately? Sure, they just ended a winless streak, but is that an accurate portrayal of how they've played?
FMFSoM: On paper the last few weeks of play for Santos haven't been great. After winning four of five to start the season, they went three games in a row without winning in February. It wasn't an easy stretch, though. They lost to Morelia, who are currently the top team in the league, and managed a 1-1 draw against a very good Monterrey side. The only really questionable result was the 2-1 road loss to Chivas (but even there, Santos earn the draw if Herculez Gomez converts a late penalty). So it wasn't necessarily a dramatic dip in form, more just a tough stretch of opponents. And of course they followed that stretch of games up by demolishing San Luis 5-2 this past weekend. San Luis are not a good team, and are certainly not one of the better defensive sides in the league, but scoring 5 goals is always an impressive accomplishment - especially coming directly after the injury to Carlos Darwin Quintero. Santos are still the league's top scoring team, and in my opinion are unquestionably one of the best 4 or 5 overall teams in the Primera this season.
SaH: Are they deep enough at forward to survive the short term loss of Carlos Darwin Quintero?
FMFSoM: No question. This past weekend against San Luis, not only were they without Quintero, but Daniel Luduena, another regular starter, was banged up a bit and didn't start (Luduena would come on as a halftime sub). This was two of their key players in the attacking third not on the field, but it didn't matter. Herculez Gomez got his first start of the season, and made a big impact. Gomez played a key role in one of Oribe Peralta's early goals, and then scored a goal of his own in the 2nd half. Also getting his first start of the season was Carlos Morales. Playing on the outside, Morales provided brilliant assists on two of the Santos goals. And it must also be mentioned that star striker Oribe Perala broke out of a minor scoring slum in a big way in the match. After scoring just one goal over the first two months of the season, Peralta notched 4 against San Luis. And if that's not enough firepower, Santos also has veteran striker Carlos Ochoa as further backup off the bench. So I think it's safe to say that this team is not lacking for depth up front.
SaH: Santos seems a bit week defensively lately. Is there an opportunity to exploit this?
FMFSoM: The Santos defense is definitely a bit vulnerable to the counterattack. Just by virtue of the attacking style they play, and the numbers they push forward, they can be caught out of position with a quick counter strike. But this is by no means a poor defensive squad. There are some solid players on the backline, such as Felipe Baloy and Aaron Galindo in the middle, and Ivan Estrada on the right side. If Santos is specifically vulnerable anywhere, it would probably be at left back -- down Seattle's right side of the field.
SaH:Best guess lineup?
Possible Lineup: Oswaldo Sanchez, Cesar Ibanez, Aaron Galindo, Felipe Baloy, Ivan Estrada, Juan Pablo Rodriguez, Rodolfo Salinas, Christian Suarez, Daniel Luduena, Carlos Morales, Oribe Peralta