By losing the round 6 match to CF Monterrey Rayados the Seattle Sounders put themselves into circumstances where they could only face a Group Stage winner. Today's draw has Seattle hosting Santos Laguna in the two leg aggregate series (away goal rule) of the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals.. In this year's prelims and group stage Santos was clearly the best team. In the Prelims they beat Olimipia of Honduras 4-3 and then rolled in the Group Stage to a 4-1-1 +10 record that includes crushing second in their group Metapan.
Santos enters the Mexican League Playoffs as the 4th seed after posting an 8-6-3 +4 record. They struggled early and late in the season, oddly doing best when double booked with CCL matches. Oribe Peralta has 14 goals in the Apertura and CCL combined in just a half year. Their second half season starts in January, so unlike the Sounders they will be an in-form club.
Sounders Coach Sigi Schmid yesterday indicated that the CCL will force Seattle players to get fit quicker, get ready to win earlier;
Obviously we know we have something very important at play right at the beginning of the year because we’re coming back into CONCACAF quarterfinal play. We know that begins before the regular season begins so there’s a little more urgency in terms of coming in fit into preseason. As I told the guys, normally you look to be about 75 minutes fit going into your first regular season MLS game—everybody sort of at the same stage. But now going into a CONCACAF game you’re playing against teams that are playing and playing rhythm that are 90 minutes fit, so we have to be 90 minutes fit. That means better preparation in the off-season and a little alteration in how we go through our training regimen in preseason.
Pre-season matches like the Cascadia Summit and Community Shield will either be earlier or bypassed for Seattle to prepare best to win the most important trophy they can get in 2012.
Santos has a history of playing their backups in the CONCACAF Champions League group stage, but expect them to take the knockout stages seriously and play a first team. Head Coach Benjamin Galindo has completely turned the Saints around from where they were in the beginning of the 2011 Apertura, getting them into Liguilla despite a bad start. Striker Oribe Peralta is their best player and is now the clear No. 2 Mexican national team striker behind Chicharito. Quick striker Darwin Quintero, defensive midfielder Juan Rodriguez and central defender Felipe Baloy are their other stars.
Other quarterfinals matches have the Los Angeles Galaxy facing Toronto FC with the winner facing the winner of Sounders v Santos. If Seattle pulls another upset of a Mexican side they would be well positioned to follow Real Salt Lake into a CONCACAF Champions League Final. Winning the CCL sends a club to the Club World Cup with a minimum payout in the millions. Seattle would host the second leg in the semis and Finals.
The first leg will be hosted by Seattle between March 6th and 8th. The second leg will be between the 13th and 15th. FoxSoccer will carry the games.