When the Sounders FC started CONCACAF Champions League play in 2010 in the play-in round against Metapan from El Salvador, they were embarking on a new experience for the second-year club.
That initial match against Metapan was their 59th competitive match as an MLS club. On Wednesday, they topped Marathon from Honduras 3-1 to advance to the quarterfinals for the second consecutive season, this time going unbeaten in the group stage at 4-0-0 to earn the No. 3 seed in the knockout stage.
That match was their 174th and they have come a long way since first facing international competition in 2010.
“I think the team’s gotten more mature, a little more cold-blooded at times, at the right times,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “We did a good job last year in terms of our away games, making sure we got points there, we continued to do that this year. I just think the team has done a better job managing the games than they have in years past.”
The proof is in their record in the CCL.
In 2010, they went 2-5-1 in the tournament, including 1-5-0 in the group stage to finish at the bottom of their group.
Last year, they improved to 5-4-1 in the competition, going 3-2-1 to finish second in the group behind defending champions Monterrey to advance to the quarterfinals. There, they topped Santos Laguna at CenturyLink Field, only to be smothered by them in Torreon, Mexico, falling 6-1 to end their run.
This time around, each group consisted of just three teams and the Sounders were clinical in going 4-0-0 to win the group, outscoring their opposition 12-5 in the process.
While they have gotten great play from many of their MLS regulars, the Champions League has also been grounds for playing time for players deeper on the Sounders roster as they balance the schedule congestion that comes with a successful organization.
In their first year in Champions League, Mike Seamon played in seven of Seattle’s eight matches, registering 404 minutes. Likewise, David Estrada logged 197 minutes in four matches.
In 2011, Seamon was out with an injury, but Estrada scored a goal in 230 minutes in three matches. Schmid also integrated Servando Carrasco into his regular CCL lineup rotation and the rookie midfielder played 384 minutes in six matches.
Those experiences paid off in 2012, where Seamon, Estrada and Carrasco all started and played key roles for the Sounders in their final match of the group stage on Wednesday, helping Seattle reach their goal while they keep an eye on advancing further this time around when they face Tigres in the quarterfinals beginning next March.
“Every time we play in anything we certainly want to do better than we’ve done in the past,” Schmid said. “We want to gain and learn from all the experiences as we go through it. As we look already into next season, going into the semifinals in the Champions League is something we want to achieve—and getting to the finals. It’s been a long time since a team from the US has won that, and if we can be that team, that’s something we’d be very proud of.”
The quarterfinal round will start for the Sounders in Monterrey, Mexico, against Tigres, with the second leg coming in Seattle.
First though, the Sounders will turn their attention to the LA Galaxy on Sunday and the Western Conference semifinal series with Real Salt Lake, starting next week.