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CCL Preview: Sounders vs. Isidro Metapan

Don't be surprised if the Sounders starting XI looks a lot like this tonight.
Don't be surprised if the Sounders starting XI looks a lot like this tonight.

After 90-plus minutes of action last Wednesday, it's pretty obvious the Sounders are bigger, faster, stronger and more skilled than Isidro Metapan.

As you'd expect, the Sounders dominated their home half of their two-leg competition in the preliminary round of the CONCACAF Champions League. The Sounders outshot the visitors 15-2; they had eight corner kicks and surrendered two; and their possession advantage was probably north of 75-25. Practically every 50/50 ball was first touched by a Seattle player; the not-exactly-fleet-of-foot centerback tandem of Tyrone Marshall and Taylor Graham regularly outran Metapan forwards; and the Sounders never really seemed to be in danger of surrendering a goal.

This being soccer, though, domination on the field does not necessarily lead to a similar dominance of the scoreboard. If not for Fredy Montero's somewhat fluky 60th minute goal  -- a shot that was badly mishandled by former El Salvador national team goalkeeper Misael Alfaro and left the 39-year-old in tears after the game -- the Sounders could very well be hitting the road locked in a scoreless tie. 

As it is, the Sounders can advance by winning, tying or losing by no fewer than two goals. (A synopsis of the tiebreaker can be found here or you can download the CCL Rules of Play for yourself.) Tonight's game is at 7 p.m. and will be on Fox Soccer Channel.

Further enhancing the Sounders' chances of advancing to the group stage of CCL is Metapan being forced to host their "home" match at the national stadium, Estadio Cuscatlan, in San Salvador. In addition to being familiar grounds to at least two of the Sounders -- Kasey Keller (United States) and Marshall (Jamaica) both played there during World Cup qualifying in 2004 -- it is also several hours away from Metapan and will likely feel considerably less hostile than would normally be expected. (For a what could-have-been horror story, check out this tale about Toronto FC's trip to Honduras.) The game was apparently moved over concerns about lighting at the 8,000-seat Estadio Jorge Calero Suarez.

"That might give a better show, but it might reduce our advantage," Metapan coach Edwin Portillo said through an interpreter following Wednesday's match. "In fact in our stadium we have won 30 or 34 games without losing and now we have to play in a place that makes it a little bit more neutral.

"It will take two hours and it's a weekday so people have to work. I will not create false expectations. I expect 3,000 from the capital and a few more from the municipality."

With Metapan needing a two-goal victory to advance, they can be expected to come out with a far more aggressive gameplan than they did in the first leg.

"That will be the focus of our team," Portillo said. "We have to change the tactics. We need to score two goals and that comes with more risk, but that's the only game. We will have to run the risk we don't have any other alternatives, so we'll have to expose ourselves to keep in the tournament."

If they can avoid falling apart defensively, the Sounders have a great opportunity to enhance their international image. Awaiting them in the group stage are such teams as Mexico's CF Monterrey and Costa Rica's CD Saprissa, both of which inspire some of the continent's most passionate supporters.

It is that kind of energy the Sounders hoped to tap into when they expressed their intention to take CCL as seriously as any other competition.

Although they didn't exactly start their A-team in the first leg, Sounders coach Sigi Schmid did make most of his top talent available on the bench. That paid dividends with Montero scoring within seconds of entering the match. Despite playing a game last Saturday and having another scheduled this Sunday, Schmid has indicated that he might be even more aggressive in the second leg.

"We have guys who are fit," he told Joshua Mayers of the Seattle Times. "We have guys who can come back and get in a rhythm of playing. Like I said, I knew all along that I wanted to put our strongest team on the field when we go to San Salvador, so I didn't want to burden guys like Montero with playing Wednesday -- starting Wednesday, Saturday, then Tuesday. I'm confident that the whole team that started (Saturday) except (Jeff) Parke, because we have to see how he is, that that whole team can start again on Tuesday."

With new Designated Player Alvaro Fernandez already making his Sounders debut, as well as having an additional practice or two under his belt, it would seem plausible that the Uruguayan could receive his first start in Electricity Yellow.

Regardless of who starts, though, the Sounders will be looking to continue what is already tied for the second longest competitive-match unbeaten streak in the MLS franchise's young history. At six matches, the run of success is eclipsed only by a nine-match unbeaten run that spanned six MLS matches and three U.S. Open Cup matches from June 13-July 25 of last season.

"We have really turned that corner that we have talked about that we were capable of -- the fighting for one another," said Keller, whose last visit to Estadio Cascatlan resulted in a 2-0 victory for the U.S. national team over, coincidentally, an El Salvador team that featured Alfaro in goal. "I think there is a whole new amount of energy going out there."

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