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CCL Schedule Released: Sounders' Season Gets Trickier

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The experience that players such as Servando Carrasco has picked up this season will be particularly valuable once the Sounders' schedule turns even more congested.
The experience that players such as Servando Carrasco has picked up this season will be particularly valuable once the Sounders' schedule turns even more congested.

There's a reason only eight MLS teams have ever won two trophies in the same year and none have won as many as three: It's difficult. Now that the CONCACAF Champions League group stage schedule has been released, the Seattle Sounders have another reminder of just how difficult that pursuit can be.

Among the latest revelations is this nice little chunk of late-season scheduling: From Sept. 24-Oct. 8 in which the Sounders could, theoretically, play five matches in three countries in three separate competitions. The Sounders will play in at least four cities and travel nearly 8,000 miles.

The stretch will start when the Sounders visit the Vancouver Whitecaps for their final Cascadia Cup match. Just three days later, they'll face Guatemala's Comunicaciones in CONCACAF Champions League play and then have to be on the East Coast for their Oct. 1 match against the New England Revolution. The Sounders would then close out the stretch with a potential U.S. Open Cup final on Oct. 4 and their rescheduled home match against the Philadelphia Union on Oct. 8.

This should be nothing new for the Sounders, though. Last year, they faced a very similar situation during the same point in the season when they played seven matches in a 22-day stretch. Those games included three competitions in three countries as well and forced the Sounders to travel as far south as Costa Rica and as far east as Columbus, Ohio. The Sounders went 5-0-2, won their second straight U.S. Open Cup and essentially locked up a spot in the MLS Cup playoffs. The only downside was that both of those losses were in CCL play, effectively eliminating them from the competition.

The 2011 version of the Sounders does have a few advantages. The most obvious of those is the simple fact that the Sounders' roster is six players larger. Those six players should be better prepared to play significant roles than the players toward the end of the 2010's bench because they have been seeing regular time in the Reserve League. So far, 21 different Sounders have received at least four starts and 24 have seen at least some time with the first team.

It can also not be overlooked that this year's team will have considerably more room for error than last year's squad. That run of form effectively salvaged the Sounders' 2010 campaign. This year's team is positioned considerably more favorably with a playoff spot all but locked up.

There's also the not-so-insignificant point that the teams the Sounders will face are not of the same ilk. While no MLS team can be overlooked, two of three MLS teams the Sounders will face in that time are among the league's worst and the third team will be played at Century Link Field. The 2010 had to play two road games against teams that were among the league's better half.

Last year's Open Cup final was against a Columbus Crew team that was still among the better teams in MLS. If the Sounders get that far this year, they'll either face the USL-Pro's Richmond Kickers or the Chicago Fire, a team with just two MLS wins at the time of this writing.

The 2010 CCL games were against an eventual tournament semifinalist and the eventual champion. Comunicaciones is hardly a slouch, but that game also represents the Sounders' best chance for winning a CCL road game.

It's obviously too soon to make bold proclamations about how well the Sounders will fare during this stretch, but this could very well be the point in the season where we find out if this team is special or merely good.