With four weeks until the deciding match in the two leg aggregate series against Santos Laguna, the Seattle Sounders have a dual focus in preseason -- winning that CONCACAF Champions League round and preparing for a full year of matches. During yesterday's interview on KJR with Gasman and Elise, Coach Sigi Schmid noted the importance of the CCL match against Santos. During today's conference call, Sounder at Heart asked Sigi about how he balances those two priorities:
There's a dual focus all along. The players have already seen some video tape on Santos Laguna when we were in Arizona. We're editing stuff and putting it together right now. The guys when they went to Brad Evans' house for their meal when they were in Arizona they watched the Santos game. Santos was on against Pumas that day, so they watched that game. I know the guys are aware of it and I know we've talked about some of their players and making them aware. Right now we're concentrating on us, our fitness and our cohesion.
The focus of that attention is a team that will be in midseason form and currently sits tied atop the 2012 Clausura with 13 points in 6 games. While they will have to travel in between league matches, the opponents for those league matches aren't the strongest. FMF State Of Mind's Eben Lehman provides a brief update and scouting report of Seattle's first target in a packed 2012 year.
There hasn't been much to criticize about Santos through the first six weeks of the Clausura 2012 season. The team picked up where it left off in the Apertura, and has continued molding itself into a well-oiled machine under manager Benjamin Galindo. Since taking over midway through last season, Galindo has consistently brought out the best in his players. Last year he brought Santos to the brink of the Apertura championship, and this season the team seems to have taken another big step forward.
The strength of the squad is obviously up front, where the roster is loaded with attacking talent. Up top you've got Oribe Peralta, with Christian Suarez, Carlos Darwin Quintero, and Daniel Luduena in support close behind. All four of these players are capable scorers, but they're actually at their best when playing off each other. Quintero especially has taken on more of a set-up man role this season, working from the wing to get others in scoring position rather than worrying about his own looks.
Suarez has definitely stepped it up this season, and to this point is the team's leading scorer with three goals. But opponents can't afford to focus on one guy. A portion of Suarez's success is probably due to the space opened up by the close attention played to Peralta. Unsurprisingly, with their level of talent and style of play, Santos is one of the top four scoring teams in the league through the first six weeks of the season. And we haven't even mentioned players like Herculez Gomez off the bench, or new acquisition Marc Crosas, a Barcelona product who just joined the team.
So far this season, Santos has churned out results, winning four of their first five before dropping their first match of season this past Friday on the road against Morelia. Although I wouldn't read too much into that loss, as it was played on a drenched, puddle-covered field, and the conditions severely impacted the speed and quick passing attack of Santos.
Right now Santos is tied for first place in the league with Tigres (the team they lost to in last season's final). There are still several tough regular season games to come, including away dates against Cruz Azul and America, and the grudge match against Tigres. Unfortunately for Seattle fans, the first leg of the CCL quarterfinal round is sandwiched between two of the easier games on the schedule - home matches against relatively weak opponents San Luis and Puebla. This means there is no reason for Santos not to take both legs of the quarterfinal series against Seattle very seriously. Santos - like most clubs - certainly values hardware, and after narrowly losing out in three of the last four Primera finals, they would love to finally be able to raise a trophy.
To self scout Santos, they are on Azteca and Fox Deportes Friday evening. Santos v Monterrey on Telefutura Saturday night. Most readers probably don't get those stations, but your local Mexican restaurant might. Sounders players are already watching film; you may as well start making plans to attend the first leg and watch the second with Sounder at Heart at Golazo Energy HQ to benefit Kingdom Hope. If you hadn't checked the Facebook page in a while, you may have missed that the beer will be from Big Al's Brewing.