For the sixth time in their 12 MLS seasons, the Seattle Sounders will be competing in the Concacaf Champions League. While this year’s version is basically the same as the most recent version they competed in during the 2018 season, it’s quite a bit different from their first four entrances. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
First things first, who are we playing?
The Sounders will play CD Olimpia of Honduras in the Round of 16, which was determined during Monday’s draw.
Any format tweaks we should know about?
As you’d probably expect, the knockout stage of the tournament is played as two-legged, aggregate goal series. The only tiebreaker is away goals. If the two teams are even on those, they skip overtime and go straight to a penalty shootout.
When’s the first game?
The Sounders will play the first leg on the road between Feb. 18-20 and then host the return leg between Feb. 25-27. Hopefully it’s closer to Feb. 25, as the Sounders are scheduled to open MLS play on March 1.
Is the home game in my season-ticket package?
It is! This will be the 18th game, meaning no friendlies are in the package.
OK, I feel like I remember Olimpia. Do I?
Probably! Back in the 2015-16 tournament, the Sounders were drawn into a group that featured Olimpia and the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Sounders ultimately advanced from that group to qualify for the quarterfinals, but they split their two games with Hondurans. They lost the game in Honduras 1-0 on a goal by Alberth Elis (who now plays for the Houston Dynamo). They fell behind 1-0 on another Elis goal in the home leg, but then stormed back with two goals after the 90th minute to pull out the victory. Even if you don’t remember anything else about that game, you probably remember Brad Evans converting a penalty in the 97th minute that set off a bit of a melee. It was a truly wild game.
What else do we know about Olimpia?
They play their home matches in Tegucicalpa, Honduras, whose airport is rather notorious for having one of the scariest approaches in the world for incoming planes. The club is also one of the most decorated in Central America, having won more than 30 domestic titles and two Concacaf championships (1972, 1988). More recently, they won their league’s last regular-season title and are currently sitting atop the postseason table. Their roster is full of Honduras internationals, including former MLS Designated Player Jerry Bengtson, who has 11 goals in 15 games this year. Another player to watch for is Jorge Benguche, a 6-foot-3 striker who has 24 goals over his past two seasons.
Who else is on the Sounders’ side of the bracket?
Liga MX giants Tigres UANL are the only Mexican team in the Sounders’ half of the draw, and the earliest they’d face each other is the semifinals. If the Sounders advance past Olimpia, they’d face the winner of the Montreal Impact-Saprissa series. The Impact seem to be a bit of a mess right now, after finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference with a -13 goal-difference. That led them to cutting ties with head coach Wilmer Cabrera, who himself had replaced Rémi Garde around midseason. In their place is the legendary Thierry Henry, who brings a ton of gravitas but a questionable coaching record. Their roster is also a bit of a mess. Saprissa is traditionally one of Costa Rica’s best teams and were just eliminated in the semifinals of the Costa Rican Primera Division playoffs after a second-place regular-season finish. They are stacked with Costa Rica internationals and have a bunch of former MLS players, including Roy Miller, Christian Bolaños and Johan Venegas. One of their more intriguing players is 17-year-old Manfred Ugalde, who already has eight goals in less than 1,500 first-team minutes. They play their home games in Saprissa Stadium, which was long considered one of the more intimidating homes in Central America, but has become a bit less notorious since the artificial turf was replaced by grass in 2015.
Seems manageable enough. What about Tigres, though?
Tigres opens against El Salvadorian side Allianza FC and then faces the winner of New York City FC-AD San Carlos. San Carlos might qualify as this tournament’s Cinderella, as they were playing in the Costa Rican second division as recently as 2018. Former RSL man Alvaro Saborio then led them to a fourth-place finish in the Primera Division before retiring. Most likely, though, Tigres will need to go through NYCFC to get to the semis. NYCFC is honestly stacked with talent, but don’t have a head coach right now.
But we’re probably playing Tigres, right?
Yeah, they might be the best team in Concacaf over the past five years and there’s no reason to doubt them. Since the start of 2015, they’ve won four Liga MX titles, been to three CCL finals (including last year) and even played in a Copa Libertadores final. They’ve also won the Campeones Cup (2018) and been to a Leagues Cup final (2019). They’ve got an obscene amount of talent and are coached by the highly decorated Ricardo Ferretti.
We have some history with them don’t we?
We sure do! The Sounders played Tigres during the 2012-13 CCL quarterfinals and became the first MLS team to knock off a Liga MX opponent in an elimination round. The Sounders managed that after losing the first leg 1-0 and falling behind 1-0 in the second leg, meaning they were down 2-0 and had lost the away-goal tiebreaker. But a late first-half red card allowed the Sounders to play the whole second half up a man. DeAndre Yedlin then scored a pretty amazing goal only to be outdone by a Djimi Trarore banger a few minutes later. Eddie Johnson grabbed the eventual game-winner on a shot from an absurdly tight angle. The Sounders were actually one goal away from making to the CCL finals, but came up just short against Santos Laguna in the next round.
Can I see the whole bracket?
Wow, LAFC kinda got hosed didn’t they?
Looks that way. In contrast to the Sounders, they’ll likely have to play two Liga MX teams just to get to the semis and then might have a date with Club America awaiting them there.
Seems like we might have gotten a bit ahead of ourselves. How’s the Sounders roster looking these days?
Yeah it’s got some holes. Most notably, the Sounders only have one natural centerback on the roster and they’ve not done anything to replace the likes of Victor Rodriguez. Still, it’s worth noting the Sounders went 15-1-2 in matches when Nicolas Lodeiro, Raúl Ruidíaz and Jordan Morris all started. As long as those three are healthy, you’ve got to like their chances.