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Five things to watch when Sounders play Motagua in CCL opener

There are still questions surrounding who’s available to start.

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Nicolás Lodeiro wants to know who you are voting for this year. Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

In a sense, the start of the Seattle Sounders’ 2022 campaign feels like it has snuck up on us. That’s probably because just like you, we’ve been unable to watch any of the Sounders’ preseason games. It could also be that this is the earliest in the year that they’ve ever played a competitive match.

Either way, the Sounders are due to play FC Motagua tonight at 6 PM Pacific. The game is being aired on FS2 and TUDN, which are both included in FuboTV’s streaming package (free trials available).

Here’s what we’ll be watching:

How fit is Nicolás Lodeiro?

The good news is that Nicolás Lodeiro has played in each of the Sounders’ past two preseason games, logging 43 minutes in his most recent appearance against the LA Galaxy. The bad news is that he’s only logged about 200 minutes of playing time since last September, which also happens to be the last time he was able to go 90 minutes. Given all that, it seems like starting him might be a bit more of a risk that the Sounders need to take this early in the season. The Sounders’ ceiling is undeniably higher with a healthy Lodeiro, but they should be able to grind out a result even if he’s coming off the bench in this one.

Can Nouhou start without really training?

Fitness should not be an issue for Nouhou, as he’s probably the Sounder who is closest to midseason form after playing six competitive matches in the Africa Cup of Nations. The problem is that he’s only trained, at most, one time with the Sounders since the end of the 2021 season. Probably working in his favor is that basically the entire starting XI is going to be players who were on the team last year and familiarity should not be much of an issue. Nouhou’s last performance involved him shutting down arguably the best offensive player in the world. Letting him start seems like a risk that might be worth taking.

What impact does an empty stadium have?

One of the biggest challenges of playing games in Central America is that the crowds always are ... boisterous. There are often armed guards and extra-high fences separating the fans from the players and the atmosphere is hostile, to say the least. That won’t be an issue this time, at least once the Sounders are inside the stadium. After some shenanigans in the stands in their qualifier, Motagua is being forced to play without fans in this game. The Sounders absolutely need to use that to their advantage.

Where do goals come from?

There’s no question that, on paper, the Sounders look like they’ll have a formidable offense. Raúl Ruidíaz is one of the league’s most reliable scorers, Nicolás Lodeiro is a consistent playmaker, Jordan Morris was borderline unplayable in his last healthy season, newly acquired Albert Rusnák has produced every season ... you get the idea. Still, this group has not played meaningful minutes together in a long time and the Sounders are coming off a stretch-run in 2021 in which they failed to score multiple goals in seven straight games. Scoring a couple of goals and relieving the pressure for the home leg sure would be appreciated.

Will Sounders show up for CCL?

This marks the Sounders’ third entry into the CCL under Brian Schmetzer. The first two trips did not go as smoothly as anyone would have hoped, especially in the previous visits south of the border. In 2018, the Sounders lost to tiny Santa Tecla 2-1 before winning the home leg 4-0. In the following round, they beat Chivas de Guadalajara 1-0 at home only to get demolished 3-0 on the trip to Mexico. In 2020, the Sounders jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the road against CD Olimpia but were forced to settle for 2-2 tie. They gave up the first goal at home, stormed back to take a 4-3 aggregate-goal lead and then allowed a stunning equalizer in the 86th minute before falling in penalties.

I bring this all up because the Sounders have made it very clear that they place a lot of value on CCL but haven’t really shown it with results. This is the time to change that narrative.