New format for Champions League

New format for Champions League

Seattle joins a three-team group to open CONCACAF Champions League with the top team from each of eight groups advancing.

For the third straight year, the Sounders FC will play in the CONCACAF Champions League, but this year will have a different spin to it than the previous additions.

Amidst the fervor of their fourth round US Open Cup match on Tuesday, the Sounders FC also learned their draw for the group stage of the 2012-2013 CONCACAF Champions League, joining a three-team group with CD Marathon from Honduras and the winner of the 2012 Caribbean Football Union Club Championship.  The top team from each of the eight groups will advance to the quarterfinals.

“It’s just good to be in this tournament again.  We get another shot at progressing and hopefully we can make another run at it,” Sounders FC midfielder Brad Evans said.  “For us, it will be even more difficult because you have to really focus on it.”

CD Marathon qualified by posting the top aggregate record in the Liga Nacional de Honduras behind Olimpia, who won both the 2011 Apertura and 2012 Clausura championships.

Seattle and Marathon drew the same group in the 2010-2011 CONCACAF Champions League and the Sounders went 1-1-0 against the Honduran club, winning at home 2-0 and falling 2-1 in San Pedro Sula.  Neither team advanced to the knockout stage though, as Mexico’s Monterrey and Costa Rica’s Saprissa made it through.  Monterrey went on to win the tournament, their first of two in a row.

The third team in the group won’t be finalized until June 21 when the CFU Club Championship is played in San Fernando, Trinidad.  Four teams are vying for three spots, as Antigua Barricuda, USL Pro’s Puerto Rico Islanders and Trinidad and Tobago clubs W Connection and Caledonia AIA meet in the three-day tournament.

While the prospect of playing in the Caribbean is appealing from a fan perspective, it won’t be a time to relax for the Sounders.

 “It’s a little more pressure in this tournament because you have to finish first—it’s not first or second.  There’s less games so the points are more important for sure.  Travel for us is always the biggest component,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said.  “We’re coming from as far northwest, with the exception of Alaska, that you can come from the United States and going all the way down southeast.  It’s about as far as you can go, as well.  It’s not going to be a vacation.  It would be nice if it was.”

After bowing out of the tournament in the group stage in 2010-2011, the Sounders reached the quarterfinals in the 2011-2012 tournament before falling to Santos Laguna.

The tournament kicks off the week of July 31, with the four group stage matches played over six possible dates.  The quarterfinals will then fall in March of 2013 and the semifinals and finals will be in April.

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