CCL Semifinal Team Profile: Seattle Sounders FC
Posted by: Pablo Maurer
The Sounders are profiled ahead of the club's semifinal with Santos Laguna.
Home Stadium: The Sounders call CenturyLink Field their home, a venue they also share with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. Completed in 2002, the stadium’s capacity is typically limited for Sounders home games, which are regularly sold out. Additional seating areas have been opened on multiple occasions, and the team has drawn in excess of 60,000 supporters multiple times, filling the NFL-sized facility.
Seattle also trains and plays some of its U.S. Open Cup matches at Starfire Sports Complex in nearby Tukwila, a 4,500-seat venue better suited to the intimate nature of a USOC match.
History: Seattle entered MLS play as an expansion franchise in 2009. Their name – Seattle Sounders FC – is a nod to the city’s rich soccer past and a continuation of the NASL and USL franchises that shared the “Sounders” moniker. Their colors, “Sounder Blue, Rave Green and Cascade Shale” represent various geographical landmarks that surround the Emerald City, the Puget Sound and Cascade Range among them.
The club’s inaugural season was arguably the most successful for a first-year team in league history. The Sounders set an MLS record for average attendance (30,943 per match) while becoming just the second team in MLS history to hoist the U.S. Open Cup title in their inaugural season. Seattle fared well in league play as well, qualifying for the playoffs and narrowly losing in the Conference semifinals to Houston. The club finished 2009 having sold out every home match they played, including U.S. Open Cup matches and MLS Playoff encounters.
Seattle saw similar success in 2010, with the Sounders becoming the first team in league history to win back-to back Open Cup titles. The record stood for less than a year, when Seattle became the first MLS franchise to three-peat in 2011. Both campaigns also saw the Sounders qualify for the MLS Playoffs, where they reached the Western Conference Championship last year.
Season four was yet another successful year for Seattle, and it included yet another memorable Open Cup run. The Sounders came within a breath of claiming a fourth consecutive USOC title but were eliminated via a penalty kick shoot-out in the final. They also made a deep run in MLS play, advancing to the Conference Finals for the first time in team history before falling to eventual MLS Cup Champions LA Galaxy. Seattle again continued to shatter its own attendance marks, drawing an MLS record 43,144 fans per league match.
With those three consecutive Open Cup victories came, of course, three consecutive invitations to CONCACAF Champions League. The team had a less than memorable 2010-2011 CCL experience after being drawn into a tough group alongside Mexican giants Monterrey, who went on to win the tournament. Seattle was also faced with the task of competing against eventual semi-finalists Saprissa and a tough Marathón side, and was sent home after the group stage.
The 2011-2012 CCL was much more successful for the team from the Emerald City. The Sounders again found themselves drawn into a tough group, and again found themselves alongside Monterrey, who went on to win a second consecutive title. Drawing on lessons learned from their previous Champions League campaign, the Sounders managed to advance out of their group and faced eventual finalists (and current CCL semifinalists) Santos Laguna in the quarterfinals. After a memorable 2-1 home victory, the Sounders traveled south of the border, where Santos was too much to handle.
How They Got Here: Seattle qualified for 2012-2013 CONCACAF Champions League play via their 2011 U.S. Open Cup title. The Sounders actually could’ve qualified via a different route as well, as the Supporters’ Shield runner-up (LA Galaxy won both MLS Cup and the Supporters’ Shield in 2011, which meant their berth would’ve gone to Seattle had the Sounders not qualified via the Open Cup). Real Salt Lake ended up with that berth, as the Supporters’ Shield third place finisher.
Seattle was drawn into group play alongside Honduran club Marathón and Trinidad and Tobago’s Caldonia AIA, and they were dominant throughout all of their matches. Relying on four foals from Sammy Ochoa, the Sounders finished the group stage undefeated, entering the knockout phase of the 2012-2013 CCL as the No. 3 seed – bested only by fellow semifinalists Monterrey and Santos Laguna.
Sounders FC faced a tall order in their quarterfinal match-up against Liga MX leading Tigres UANL. No MLS side had ever knocked a Mexican team out of Champions League play since its 2008 redesign, and after a narrow 1-0 loss in Nuevo León, the Sounders returned to CenturyLink Field needing something special. They got just that, relying on a trio of spectacular goals from Djimi Traore, DeAndre Yedlin and Eddie Johnson to make history and advance to the Semifinals, where Santos Laguna await.
Current Form: Though the Sounders have been on fire in Champions League, they’ve given a more lukewarm performance in 2013 MLS play and after four weeks find themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference. They’ll need to return to top form - and fast - if they have intentions to vanquish Santos Laguna, who find themselves on the other end of the pendulum, unbeaten in their last five matches.
Santos will enter this series as the favorite to advance. But Seattle, in a way, might almost fancy their chances as underdogs. Few MLS pundits gave Seattle much of a chance to advance against Tigres, and the Sounders will likely relish the opportunity to prove them wrong again by becoming the first MLS team in the history of Champions League play to eliminate two Mexican opponents in a single competition.
Pablo Maurer covers the CONCACAF Champions League for SoundersFC.com
Follow him on Twitter for all the latest CCL news and notes!