TUKWILA, Wash. — The history of MLS teams going to Mexico is not particularly good. In the two leagues’ entire history, MLS teams have only won there a handful of times — including the Sounders’ win over Monterrey in 2011 — and recent history is even worse.
MLS teams enter this week of Concacaf Champions League play on a collective 11-game winless run in Mexico which dates back to 2019. Since Sporting KC won 2-0 at Toluca in the 2019 CCL Round of 16, MLS teams are 0-10-1 and have been outscored 29-4 (although three MLS teams have still managed to advance).
Thanks to their 3-0 win over Club León in the first leg of their series, the Sounders won’t need to end that ignominious streak in order to advance to the CCL semifinals. But they are going to Guanajuato with the intention to do so.
“The mindset is to win,” Sounders right back Alex Roldán said following Tuesday’s training session. “We know what it takes to get to the next round and a shutout does it. It will make our jobs a lot easier if we can get one in the back of the net there, I think that’s the mentality. We’re going to go down there and try to win this game, it’s not like we’re just trying to keep it a 3-0 game.”
Key to the Sounders’ approach is the knowledge that scoring even one goal will make León’s job virtually impossible. Thanks to the away-goals tiebreaker, a Sounders goal would force León to score five in order to advance. The only scenario that would lead to a penalty shootout — there is no overtime — would be a 3-0 León victory.
“We’re not going to go down there and defend for 90 minutes,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “That would be foolish of us. They’re too good of a team.”
That doesn’t mean the Sounders necessarily plan to out-possess León. Much like they did in the first leg when they were credited with seven “big” chances despite only having about 33% of possession, the Sounders will look to break León’s lines and create transition opportunities.
“We talked about when to press, how to press, line of confrontation because we know if we do a good job with our defending it will lead to transition moments where we were very effective,” Schmetzer said. “We also discussed on the attacking side how to create chances out of possession. How do we create chances out of set-piece opportunities?”
Schmetzer also urged his players not to allow themselves to be lulled into early complacency, knowing that an early goal could effectively put the series to bed.
“They need to be laser-focused on the first 15 minutes, not just to defend and take the crowd of it, but also when we have a chance to play I want them to be great,” he said.