For the second time in as many years, the Sounders FC will play in the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League. And for the second time in as many years, they have an incredibly difficult group ahead of them.
With their 2-0 overtime win over San Francisco FC, the Sounders advanced with a 2-1 aggregate series win over the Panamanian club.
Seattle will join Comunicaciones (Guatemala), Monterrey (Mexico) and Herediano (Costa Rica) in the group stage, beginning August 16, assuming Herediano can hold on to their 8-0 lead over Alpha United (Guyana) in the second leg of their preliminary round meeting tonight.
“I just keep wondering why our group is so tough,” Schmid said after the match on Wednesday. “Every team is tough at this point. It's a tough group but it’s important.”
The Sounders will host Comunicaciones in the first match of the group stage August 16 at CenturyLink Field.
Comunicaciones won the 2010 Apertura and the 2011 Clausura to earn a berth in the tournament. In 44 matches, they finished 17-11-16, third-best in Guatemala’s top league. However, they stormed through the playoffs at the end of both seasons, outscoring their opponents 28-7 in the 12 matches, including 8-0 and 6-0 aggregate wins in the Clausura.
Monterrey is back in CCL after winning the tournament in 2011 over Real Salt Lake in the finals. Seattle faced them in the group stages in 2010-2011, falling 3-2 in Mexico and 2-0 in Seattle. They won the 2010 Apertura to earn their way back into the tournament. Their top player, Chilean striker Humberto Suazo, entered the match in Monterrey last year with the Sounders leading 2-0 and within minutes put Monterrey in the driver’s seat, contributing to three quick goals.
Herediano got into the tournament's preliminary round by finishing with the best aggregate record among the runners up in Costa Rica’s top league. Sounders FC defender Leo Gonzalez played for Herediano from 2000-2008 and had a brief stop in Municipal Liberia before joining the Sounders in 2009.
Though the group may be difficult, the Sounders are looking at it as an opportunity to redeem themselves after finishing just 1-5-0 last year in the group stage.
“Our players felt disappointed with our performance last year overall. We felt we deserved a bit more,” Schmid said. “We felt we were unlucky with a red card in Costa Rica and we thought we had done enough in Marathon to get some points. We were up 2-0 in Monterrey. So we had some things go against us. It’s great to have a chance to go at it again.”
Seattle and Toronto FC both are back in the group stage after reaching that point last year. This year, they are joined by the LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas.