SEATTLE - JUNE 23: Osvaldo Alonso #6 of the Seattle Sounders FC is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against the New York Red Bulls at CenturyLink Field on June 23, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Despite conceding an early goal and losing Lamar Neagle to a straight red card, the Sounders cruised to an easy win over the reigning Guatemalan champions at CenturyLink Field.
With the MLS international transfer window now closed, the Sounders move forward with what is likely the team with which they will see out the year. There are still ways to add talent, most notably through free transfers and trades within MLS, but the odds of a major impact signing being made through those channels are fairly slim. We've got a pretty good idea where the Sounders are at in terms of MLS play with their current squad; what's less clear is where they stand in relation to the rest of their group in the CONCACAF Champions League. Seattle is widely considered a favorite to advance to the knockout round, but that belief was at least somewhat dependant upon the assumption that they would be adding talent during the window. On paper, the Sounders are still the second strongest team in the group. But given their struggles advancing past the qualifying round and the recent dip in their overall form coupled with their failure to fill their third and final designated player slot, their standing as easy favorites to reach the knockout stage is perhaps less stable that it once was.
After tonight, we'll have a far better hold on Seattle's chances to advance. It's difficult to call anything a "must-win" this early in the group stage, but it's realistically as close as you can get. The Sounders (and most other MLS teams) have struggled in their travels to Central America and it's tough to see Seattle taking anything more than a point against Monterrey, so they'll have to perform well against the other two clubs in the group-particularly at home. If the club doesn't want the heat from the fans over their failure to add talent before the close of the window to ratchet up, they'd do well to make it into the knockout stage. A failure to secure three points against C.S.D. Comunicaciones would put the Sounders in a pretty deep hole.
So then, what do we know about Comunicaciones? Well, one thing we know is that they can score some goals. In six games played so far this season, the defending Liga Nacional champions have hung six on the opposition. In last year's Clausura stage, Las Cremas led the league in goals scored with 39 in 22 games, a mark of 1.77 per match. That's a very good mark, and while Comunicaciones topped neither the Apertura or Clausura tables last season their firepower was enough to propel them towards victory in the playoffs. So, not particularly great news for the Sounders who have had some problems along the back line in recent weeks.
In better news for Seattle, Comunicaciones do not have a particularly strong defense. So far this season they've surrendered ten goals (more than all but one other club in the league) and the 28 allowed in last season's Clausura was 7th best in a league of 12 teams. There are some leaks at the back, and given the tendency of visiting sides to bunker quite heavily during CCL play that's very good news for a Sounders side that has struggled to break down entrenched defenses all season long-recall if you will their struggles to score against San Francisco in the second leg of qualifying. The Sounders dominated the run of play in every sense imaginable, but their inability to put shots on target and finish chances made the entire affair much more of a nail-biter than it had any right to be.
So, we can reasonably assume that Comunicaciones are an imperfect but good Guatemalan side. Where does that place them in terms of CCL play? If Soccermetrics CONCACAF Coefficients are to be believed (and with some caveats, they are) it would place them well in the lower half. As a federation, Guatemala ranks 8th out of 10. That's taking into consideration the historically strong performances of C.S.D. Municipal, one of several heavyweight teams from less prestigious federations in the region that are built to compete internationally as well as domestically and whose failure to secure entry to this season's CCL was something of a surprise. Comunicaciones aren't of that caliber, and the Sounders have to be considered heavy favorites.
With that being said, Las Cremas are built to attack and feature several dangerous players. Keep an eye on forwards Carlos Ramirez (who has scored 4 goals in his club's first 6 games) and Jairo Arreloa (who led the team in scoring over the course of last year's Clausura) in particular. It's probably unrealistic to expect an attacking approach from the visitors, but it would not be a shock to see them get forward with a bit more intent than most away sides in CCL play.
For the Sounders part, it will be interesting to see what sort of lineup Sigi Schmid opts for this evening. With just three days rest between tonight's game and Saturday's frustrating 0-0 draw with Chivas USA, it seems like that Seattle will go for something of a mixed lineup featuring both first-choice regulars and second-teamers. Roger Levesque is a decent bet to start at one of the forward spots, with Mike Fucito an outside candidate to get the nod at the other. It would probably be a pretty major surprise if Lamar Neagel didn't get the nod on one of the wings; Leo Gonzalez is a similarly good bet at left back. We may also see Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Brad Evans return from injury, though almost certainly not in a starting capacity.
The Sounders need a win tonight, not only for the sake of their CCL hopes but to regain some of the positive momentum lost against Chivas USA and the positive energy of many of their supporters lost at the closing of the transfer window on Sunday. The Sounders are a good enough team to expect a appearance in the CCL group stage, but they also haven't always lived up to expectations. Win tonight and the negatives of the past week fade into the background; lose or draw, and they'll be pushed even further into the forefront.