SEATTLE - OCTOBER 08: Head coach Sigi Schmid of the Seattle Sounders FC looks on during the match against the Philadelphia Union at CenturyLink Field on October 8, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. The Union defeated the Sounders 2-0. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Match-ups for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals in March have been released and the Seattle Sounders have drawn the short straw; they'll face Mexican powerhouse Santos Laguna, arguably the best remaining team in the tournament.
The Seattle Sounders will host Mexican powerhouse Santos Laguna at CenturyLink field the first week in March and travel to Estadio Corona in Torreón, Mexico to play the return leg a week later in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. The draw likely represents the worst possible outcome for Seattle; being paired against LA Galaxy would have given the Sounders a chance to face a familiar opponent whose season has yet to begin (as opposed to the other clubs who will be in mid-season form) while the Sounders other potential opponent Pumas UNAM have so far been below their typical level of performance in the Primera.
The Saints are currently 4th in the Mexican Primera table, within three points of leaders Chivas de Guadalajara. Santos are lead by the potent strike pairing of Oribe Peralta (behind only Chicharito on the Mexican national team's depth chart) and Carlos Darwin Quintero, with veteran Juan Rodriguez anchoring the midfield and Panamanian international Felipe Baloy the cornerstone of the defense. The Saints boast one of the more potent attacks in the Primera (they're currently the highest scoring team in Mexico's top division with 29 from 17 games) and during the CCL group stage Santos managed to score 16 from 6 games to finish with a +10 goal differential. They absolutely destroyed fellow quarter-finalists Metapán 6-0 at Estadio Corona and embarrassed defending MLS Cup Champions the Colorado Rapids 4-1 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
With hindsight being what it is, this magnifies the Sounders failure to win their group despite having several opportunities. Claiming the higher seed would have meant a date with one of Toronto FC, Metapán (a team the Sounders beat out in qualifying for last season's tournament) or Monarcas Morelia (the weakest of the remaining Mexican sides.) Still, what's done is done and the good news for Seattle is that if they manage to make it past Santos Laguna they will face the winner of the LA Galaxy- Toronto FC quarterfinal, far preferable to facing either of the favorites of the other two quarterfinals.
Clearly, this is going to be an incredibly difficult test for the Sounders. But it's far too early to hit the panic button just yet; with an entire off-season to add talent and a front office and coaching staff clearly committed to improving the team, the Sounders will be a different and most likely better club come March. Similarly, much can happen to make Santos Laguna weaker in the coming months. This might be the worst possible draw based on what is currently known, but the reality might turn out to be quite a bit different. We'll all just have to wait and see.