It’s hard to find a positive way to shade this, so I’ll just come out and say it: The Seattle Sounders find themselves in an extremely difficult position heading into next week’s CONCACAF Champions League Semifinal match with Santos Laguna.
Seattle performed admirably well in the series’ opening match on Tuesday despite the absence of starting goalkeeper Michael Gspurning and attacking tandem Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins; unfortunately they also gave up a crucial away goal to a Santos side that makes few mistakes at home. Let’s take a closer look – statistically – at what Seattle’s chances of stealing the series in the return leg may be.
Let’s start with the good: in the Champions League era, 10 teams have headed into the second leg of a knockout series and managed to come from behind and advance. On three occasions, the team that lost the first game did so by two goals – the other seven deficits were of the one goal variety. Teams have frequently even done so while giving up the crucial “away goal” that the Sounders relinquished on Tuesday evening – on six occasions to be exact. Often times, it hasn’t even been close: teams have come back from a first leg deficit and won the series by as many as seven goals.
Here’s the bad news. Every last one of those teams was a Liga MX side (if you don't count the Sounders victory over Tigres this season, of course). The aforementioned eight goal swing was performed last year, when Salvadoran side Isidro Metapán met Pumas in the quarterfinals. After winning the opening match of the series 2-1, Metapán travelled to Mexico City needing only a draw to advance, but Pumas throttled the Hondurans 8-0.
If the Sounders need a reminder of this fact, they can find one in their recent history. A year ago the Sounders headed to Santos for the return leg of their quarterfinal matchup with Los Guerreros with a one goal lead. After an opening half that saw the two sides trade blows and level the aggregate score, Santos exploded for four second-half goals and sent Seattle packing.
But wait, there’s more: while many Liga MX sides have come back from an opening game loss, not a single one of them did so on the road. Home field advantage is unusually crucial in Champions League – lower seeded teams frequently beat more powerful sides at home, but almost never do so on the road. The Sounders, for example, became the first MLS side to eliminate a Liga MX team in CCL play when they did so in this year’s CCL. While the series was a landmark for the team and the league it plays in, it also followed suit in regards to its results: Seattle dropped the opening match in Nuevo León, then returned home to CenturyLink Field and took care of business.
So statistically speaking, the cards are stacked in Santos’ favor. No team in any edition of CCL – be it an MLS side or one from another league in CONCACAF - has ever done what the Sounders will attempt to do on Tuesday evening in Torreón: come from behind and advance on the road.
And therein lies the beautiful thing about records and statistics, and the reason why clichés like “records were meant to be broken” exist. Because they are. On paper, the odds of the Sounders travelling south of the border and emerging victorious are non-existent. But then again, the odds of Seattle eliminating Tigres were microscopic as well, and we saw how that played out. Fans of the Rave Green will find out next week whether the Sounders will make history again or become the latest piece of pro-Liga MX data in the CCL stat book.