Three reasons the Sounders can advance to the CCL final

Seattle is feeling confident ahead of it's CONCACAF Champions League semifinal second leg against Santos Laguna. Here's why.

Sounders FC vs. Santos Laguna
CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals – second leg
April 9, 5:00 pm PT, Estadio Corona, Torreon, Mexico
TV/Radio: Fox Soccer/No radio

TORREON, Mexico – Seattle Sounders FC will once again have a chance to make history tonight as they face Santos Laguna in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals. After topping Tigres UANL in the quarterfinals to become the first MLS side to eliminate a Mexican club from the tournament, Seattle looks to become just the second American team to reach the final.

Sounders FC faces a tall task tonight, needing a 1-0 victory to force overtime or a win while scoring at least two goals to advance in regulation. Despite returning to the stadium where they were eliminated last year, Seattle will draw from the experience of the dramatic comeback victory over Tigres as they attempt to knockout a Mexican team for the second time in one month.

Here are a few reasons for the team to be confident.

New year, new team

Of the 14 players who saw time in the second leg of the quarterfinals last year, six are no longer with the Sounders and two more, David Estrada and Brad Evans, are unavailable because of injury.

For many who will play in the match, last year’s result is just a story that’s been told to them. For others, though, it is very easy to put that loss behind them and use it as a learning experience.

“The past is the past. This is 2013. We’re a different team. They’re a different team,” said forward Eddie Johnson, who played just 19 minutes before coming off injured in the 2012 meeting. “We have a chance to put ourselves back in the game. We know it’s going to be a tough game. This is why we play this game. We live for these moments.”

Experience matters

The Sounders have developed a history of performing much better in stadiums around the CONCACAF region in their second appearances there.

After losing to Monterrey 3-2 in 2010, they became just the second MLS team to win in Mexico in 2011 with a 1-0 win in the Champions League Group Stage. In 2010, they lost 2-1 to Marathon in San Pedro Sula, Honduras only to come back in 2012 to post a 3-2 victory.

“You’ve been there once. You know what it’s about. You’re not overwhelmed by the stage and the atmosphere,” said midfielder Steve Zakuani. “This is a massive stage, but it’s a group now that’s poised to do good things. We’ve learned from last year and we’ve also got a different group. It’s a group that has to believe it can get the job done.”

The Sounders are not only experienced at Estadio Corona, but have become veterans of the Champions League’s Championship Round. Overall, they have played 25 Champions League matches since they were first eligible for the tournament in 2010, more than any other MLS club. That experience equips them with the right mentality for the second leg that they didn’t quite have last year.

“We just pushed too hard too early. They’re a very good counter-attacking team,” Schmid said. “It’s important for us not to be naïve. I think we learned.”

It’s a 90-minute game

In 2012, the Sounders lacked the patience in the second leg of the series to be able to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them. Now, they have shown that they can play with the right amount of urgency and get an unlikely result.

In the quarterfinals against Tigres, they were meeting a team that was unbeaten in Liga MX. Seattle fell behind 1-0 in Mexico while employing patient tactics, then dropped behind 2-0 in the series before halftime of the second leg at CenturyLink Field. A second-half run of three goals, though, lifted them to the semifinals.

While allowing an early goal to Santos will make the mountain much higher to climb, the Sounders now have the experience to know that the odds aren’t insurmountable and patience will be key.

“It’s important that we don’t go out there panicked to try and score goals. That’s not what it’s all about. 1-0 gets us into extra time,” Schmid said. “We have to be smart, look for our opportunities and be a good counter-puncher. I think we showed at Tigres that we can be a lot more disciplined, a lot smarter. We have to do the same thing, but with a better result.”

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