Nine points. Through three matches of CONCACAF Champions League group stage play, the Seattle Sounders remain perfect after beating Herediano in Costa Rica 2-1. Just think about that for a second.
When CCL play started, we knew the Sounders would have two of their first three matches in Mexico and Costa Rica. Most of us would have probably begrudgingly accepted one point from those two matches and hoped to run the table at home. Instead, the Sounders are in a position to clinch a spot in the quarterfinals with a win at home on Tuesday against an Herediano team that will have just played a match in Costa Rica on Saturday.
It's a pretty amazing difference from last year when the Sounders were sitting winless at the same stage in the tournament, a fact that was not lost on Sigi Schmid.
"Last year we were disappointed in our performance in Champions League, maybe even a little bit embarrassed," he said. "It was definitely a goal we had set for ourselves that we wanted to get better as we came back into it. So we went 2-0 in our first three games on the road, which makes it even that much greater of an accomplishment. I'm very proud of what we have done."
Equally impressive as the Sounders' ability to put themselves in this position is that they did it in a way that seemed so ordinary. Sure, the win over Monterrey felt pretty monumental, but they did it with a heavy mix of starters and reserves. The win in Costa Rica was somewhat similar, with guys like Servando Carrasco, Nate Jaqua, Patrick Ianni and Zach Scott logging heavy minutes.
Both wins were very workmanlike, too. No special tactics. No amazing performances. Just some quality get-the-job-done style play that emphasized making the most of whatever opportunities there were. In other words, the Sounders made winning in Mexico and Central America seem normal.
A big portion of credit for Wednesday's win belongs to Fredy Montero. The often maligned forward had the kind of game that really exemplifies his skill set. His first goal was classic Montero: a wonderfully taken strike from space. His second was pure poacher: getting just enough of the ball to nudge it past the goal line. They were his third and fourth goals he scored in his past three games, interestingly enough in three separate competitions.
Nate Jaqua, who has never really found consistent form this year, had a pretty solid performance himself. In addition to hitting a shot off the post, he was also involved in both of Montero's goals. On the first, he perfectly cut a pass that gave Montero an open look at the goal. On the second, it was his header that sent the ball onto Roger Levesque, whose cross Montero put away.
Overall, it was the kind of performance we've now come to expect from the Sounders when they are faced with a tough situation. Coming off a disheartening loss a few days prior and preparing for another big MLS game a few days after, this could have very well been a game the Sounders overlooked. Instead, they managed to do multiple things at once, while expecting some of their lesser-used players to provide supplementary help.
Servando Carrasco once again proved a serviceable temporary replacement for Osvaldo Alonso. Scott showed that he's plenty effective when used in specific circumstances. Patrick Ianni had a wonderfully quiet day at center back. Leo Gonzalez continued to be option 1B at left back. Alvaro Fernandez looked right at home as a central midfielder.
Nine points in three CCL matches is no fluke. This team was constructed with this very thing in mind. It's nice when a plan comes together.