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Sounders Experience, Conditions, Ownership Emphasis Prepare Players For Champions League

Leo Gonzalez is returning to the starting lineup and notes that the Sounders as a whole of plenty of international club experience now.
Leo Gonzalez is returning to the starting lineup and notes that the Sounders as a whole of plenty of international club experience now.

Players for Seattle Sounders FC know that, despite playing in 16 previous CONCACAF Champions League games in the past two years, the broad fanbase may not yet know how massive the Wednesday night match against Santos Laguna is. They and the ownership also know that it is one of the most important games of the year. In the chill of Monday's post-practice interviews Brad Evans put it clearly:

The tempo and focus from day one has been that this is a playoff game. This is one of the biggest games of the year. They've put onus on this game. They've told us that it's important. From Joe Roth all the way down, this is one of the most important games we've had. I think it brings better training sessions. It brings a better attitude, a winning attitude. Everything has put us to this point.

Leo Gonzalez says that it isn't just his experience in Central America that helps the team, but also all the experienced veterans whether new to the region or not:

I have a lot more experience with the CONCACAF tournament because I'm from Central America, but a lot of the players on the team have international experience playing either in Latin America or Europe also. We all have international experience, but maybe mine is more related to Central America. All of us are preparing the best we can.

Part of those preparations involve reviewing success against Monterrey, but they are mainly focused on Santos Laguna. Gonzalez points out that the win in Monterrey provides confidence:

Having won against a Mexican side in Mexico gives us a lot more confidence to know that we can do the same thing at home, but every game is different and we just have to concentrate on the game at hand. We have a lot of knowledge about what this team is about and that's going to give us an advantage going into the game.

Evans echoed that sentiment:

The most effective way that we can prepare is by playing teams and having that experience in our bag. It doesn't guarantee good results but we try to give ourselves the best advantage that we can. It's a credit to the ownership for the preseason in Mexico, even with the change in venue and all those sorts of things they kind of a prepare you mentally for the kind of things that you could face on field.

Wednesday night looks to be chilly. Historically that is an advantage for US-based teams against those from Mexico. Gonzalez thinks that won't be a significant factor, but instead the Sounders' familiarity with the new FieldTurf will be. Evans does feel weather could be a factor this week, yet also knows that it will be the opposite for leg two of the aggregate series.

Evans also stated that Sigi and the team recognize that the aggregate goal situation means that managing the first leg at home can be key. A score of 1-nil or 2-nil changes the dynamic due to the away goal rule. It may be odd circumstances that lead to a team starting a season with playoffs and expecting attendance of just over half of their season average, but the central midfielder says that in some ways it is on the players to make fans realize what this game means.

The diehard fans are coming out. If we can put the emphasis from the players to the fans than they know that this is extremely important to us. This match is the first game, it might not be part of the regular season or the season ticket package but for us, as players, it's extremely important. If we can relay that message than hopefully we can get that extra 5,000 and they help us out.

The Seattle Sounders have international experience, programmed their preseason to maximize their effectiveness and have an emphasis from ownership on down about what this game means. Part of that is because Mexican teams are quite effective in this tournament, earning 2.10 Points Per Match when visiting MLS sides in the 3+ years of CCL play. The Sounders will be against the historical "run of play," but they will be one of the most prepared MLS sides to face Mexican teams in the CCL yet.

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