The Seattle Sounders fell 2-1 at Santa Tecla in El Salvador last Thursday in the first leg of their Round of 16 CONCACAF Champions League match, but the damage did not stop there. The Sounders will have to try and right the deficit this Thursday at CenturyLink Field (7 p.m. PT) without star forward Jordan Morris, who tore his ACL near the end of the match last week and will miss the entire 2018 season.
Seattle opens its home slate with two games just three days apart, hosting MLS expansion side LAFC in their inaugural match on Sunday, March 4. Despite massive fixture congestion — should the Sounders advance in CCL, their first quarterfinal leg would be March 7 — Seattle is insistent upon taking one match at a time.
“The next game is the most important game,” said Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “We’re going to get back to that. That served us well in 2016, and the most important game is the next game. I’m going to put out the best lineup for Thursday, and then we’re going to assess and put out the best lineup for Sunday…Every game is a critical game for us.”
Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said he knew the game was going to be a difficult one in El Salvador. Santa Tecla was skillful on the ball and never let Seattle feel comfortable in possession, using their hostile crowd to spur them on to a come-from-behind win.
Now, though, the Sounders are ready to put their own home crowd to use and give fans a show on Thursday as Seattle looks to advance to the CCL quarterfinals.
“It’s important to play attacking soccer in front of our fans,” said Roldan. “They appreciate that, they’ve appreciated that for years. Coming back to the best fans in MLS is obviously nice. It’ll be eye-opening for Santa Tecla with the weather and also the amount of people who will show up.”
With Morris sidelined, the onus will fall on Clint Dempsey (who did not feature in leg one) and Will Bruin, the team’s top goalscorers from last season, who combined for 23 regular-season tallies. While the Sounders will miss Morris’ speed, Bruin’s physical presence and Dempsey’s dynamism should still be enough to rattle a Santa Tecla team in cold and rainy weather nearly 4,000 miles from home.
“Bruin and Deuce, those two will carry the lion’s share of the work,” said Schmetzer. “How we play, the formation, the style, all of that changes certainly subtly just because of Jordan’s characteristics versus Will’s characteristics. But last year we did pretty good with Will and Deuce and that type of combination. We’ll try to get through it again.”
Mathematically, a 1-0 win would send Seattle to a likely date with Mexican giants Chivas, but the Sounders plan on making a statement on Thursday to start their home campaign off with a bang.
“Internally, as a team, we put pressure on ourselves each and every day,” Roldan said. “This game in particular, there’s even more pressure because we’re at home and we expect to win. Our fans expect to win. That’s what this organization is all about. It’s vital, it’s important that we come back for this first game and come back with energy.”