Back in 1997 the A-League Seattle Sounders were champions of the USA. OK, they weren't. They were champions of the A-League in 1995, which earned them entry into the CONCACAF Champions Cup of 1996. That though was played in 1997, as was the 1997 version. If that makes sense for you you probably were given a brown bag of cash by bin Hamman. After absolutely hammering SV Transvaal of Suriname 10-0 the Sounders advanced to the solo group stage with their first match against Comunicaciones of Guatemala.
The Guatemalan side were clearly the favorites, made even more so because the A-League All-Star Game prevented a few of the v 2.0 Sounders from heading down to Guatemala City for the match. But a little bit of history was made, and not just from being the last non-MLS United States team to be in the tournament, but it began the Preston Burpo era in Seattle.
When you look at the players that took the pitch (match recap from Seattle Pitch) for Seattle you won't recognize many names, even if you are well versed in that era's players. The roster was a bit hollow at the time.
Seattle fielded just four regular starters, two of them rookie defenders. Three starters were in the A-League All-Star game the same day in Rochester, New York (forward Mike Gailey, midfielder Geoff Aunger and player/coach Neil Megson). Three starters just joined the injured list (midfielder David Hoggan, defender Mark Watson and sweeper Bernie James). And backup goalkeeper Preston Burpo, who had not played a minute, was in goal the whole match while regular Dusty Hudock sat on the bench. With Gailey, Aunger and Hoggan missing, the Sounders were playing without their top three offensive weapons. In an interview taped earlier in the week and aired at halftime, head coach Neil Megson said that he instructed assistant coach Chance Fry to give playing time to the reserves in order to get them match fit for the remainder of the A-League season.
It was clearly not the priority then, that it is now. There was no way a Division 2 team from Seattle was going to win this tournament, and so the proper choice was made in playing a guest player, a player/coach and a rookie keeper. Later in the tournament Seattle wouldn't even look competitive.
But on that night, due to a bunker/counter strategy they did surprisingly well - all things considered.
Although Comunicaciones outshot Seattle 29-12, Seattle had nearly as many good chances as their opponents. Seattle played a defensive style, letting Comunicaciones shoot all they wanted from 30 yards or more, but trying to prevent shots in or near the penalty area. And shoot they did.
Tuesday night expect that strategy to be reversed. Seattle is the better team. The Sounders are capable of putting up goals in international play, scoring 10 in their 10 total matches over the past two versions of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Playing at home with a lineup that should feature mainly MLS caliber players Sigi Schmid's side will not try to "manage" the game, but will play their style. Almost certainly this will mean more shots than the opponent and more possession. The usual frustration from lack of conversion will be the biggest test for Seattle.
Due to the lack of an international signing Schmid will also try new combinations of players trying to unlock the offensive talent that puts on the shirt. This is not a training match, but a match in a tournament that Seattle intends to win. Step one is a victory at home and a road to 10 points in the Group Stage. This match is more important than the away match this weekend at FC Dallas. There are only so few times that Seattle will be favored in CCL play, and each of those must be three points.
With six total players from the Gold Cup on their roster (5 Guatemala, 1 Panama) this isn't a team to be taken lightly, but is one that can't be allowed to sit back and counter. Maybe this means keeping four back defensively for Seattle to slow down those counters. Perhaps it means playing a little more speed than usual to be able to quickly counter back as they flood forward.
No matter what it means, soccer fans in Seattle are looking for a tiny bit of payback from 14 years ago.