Players like to play, not train. That’s just part of who they are. Even after a three-game international break and a weekend win over Minnesota United, the Seattle Sounders players aren’t looking at Tuesday night’s Leagues Cup match (7 PM PT, ESPN2/TUDN) as an annoyance on the calendar. They’re looking at the chance to win a trophy.
To quote Nouhou, “Let’s win Tuesday night and go to Vegas.” Or to quote Brian Schmetzer, “Every game for this club is important, whether it’s home, away, Leagues Cup, regular season, preseason, Open Cup – every game matters to us.”
In order to take the trip to Las Vegas for the Leagues Cup final, all they have to do is beat the Liga MX side that once embarrassed them in Concacaf Champions League play — Santos Laguna. They are currently sixth in the Liga MX Apertura with a 2-1-5, +4 record. Santos lost to Cruz Azul in the 2020/21 Clausura Finals on a 2-1 aggregate score after finishing 5th in the league.
Leagues Cup will be a hefty challenge. Sounders will need to be nearly perfect, and if they are Tuesday night will be a thrill.
For FMF State of Mind, Eugene answers Four Questions.
SaH: Sounders and Santos have a small history, and it’s not good for Seattle. The Liga MX side has dominated the four previous meetings, 2-1-1, +5. Since those meetings back in 2012 and 2013 the Sounders went on to become a giant of MLS. What has Santos Laguna been up to?
FMFSoM: Since the last meeting on April 9, 2013, Santos has won Liga MX twice, made the quarterfinals four times, the semifinals three times, and finished runners-up in the last tournament. They were also bought by Grupo Orlegi, which has changed how the club is run. Its model has shifted to developing players from within their academy and making smart signings from the transfer market, which is something MLS clubs like the Philadelphia Union and FC Dallas have done to a degree but which isn’t as common in Liga MX. Orlegi has also put a strong focus on integrating Santos into the community through charitable initiatives that they have such as Guerretón, which collects toys for disadvantaged children in the Torreón-Lerdo-Gómez Palacio area.
SaH: Santos has only two wins in their last seven matches, with one of those being in the Leagues Cup. Are they actually struggling this year?
FMFSoM: This season has been challenging to say the least, with there being more international breaks than normal (Santos had players in both the Olympics and FIFA matches) and the front of the schedule having a lot of tough matches. They hosted Cruz Azul and a resurgent Atlas and have played away to Tigres, León, and Tijuana, the latter of which is the farthest domestic road trip of the season and came with three key players out on international duty. They’re also dealing with star goalkeeper Carlos Acevedo most likely being out for the remainder of the month with an injured shoulder. The good news for Santos fans is that despite all of that they’ve only lost once, picking up points in every other game. That has kept them in the thick of the playoff race (as well as the Leagues Cup).
SaH: Nine different players have a goal or an assist in the young season. Who should be providing the offensive firepower who hasn’t yet?
FMFSoM: I think Santos’ model has been “scoring by committee” for a couple of seasons, so I don’t know that it’s a matter of one player not producing as much as they should. I think that model has served them well, with young striker Santiago Muñoz being loaned to Newcastle United and Eduardo “Mudo” Aguirre missing a lot of time while away with the México team in the Olympic Games. Santos also gets a lot of production from the attacking midfield, with wingers like Juan Ferney Otero, Ayrton Preciado, and the finally healthy Brian Lozano able to create and score while Diego Valdés is a set piece threat. Valdés has missed time with the Chilean National Team; however, he should be back and ready to play for the Leagues Cup match.
SaH: Santos Laguna and Seattle Sounders announced a strategic partnership. Some of that will be having their satellite academies in the Yakima Valley work together. What are Santos Laguna’s satellite academies like? Have they produced a pro talent yet?
FMFSoM: I’m not as well versed in Santos’ satellite academies, but like most clubs in México, Santos will bring a talented player from a satellite academy to Torreón for tryouts and if they do well enough, they’ll live there. The club is very focused on developing these youths as people, not just players, so everything from dietary restrictions to things like schooling are taken into consideration. For example, Santos is very strict with education, and young players who don’t attend school and don’t do well in their classes don’t play. This model has paid off, as their main academy in Torreón has produced players like Uriel Antuna, who played with the LA Galaxy for a season on loan from Manchester City, current Mexican National Team players like Muñoz, Aguirre, Jorge Sánchez, and players now based in Europe like Gerardo Arteaga (teammate with former Philadelphia Union centerback Mark McKenzie at Genk in Belgium). The young players see this success and the direct line to the first team, with Omar Campos (he’s been with the club since U13s) and Alberto Ocejo (with Santos since U17s) starting and Jonathan Díaz, Luis González, Edgar Games, and Jordan Carrillo on the bench, all of them long time players in the youth system.
FMF State of Mind will also cover the other Leagues Cup semifinal.