CARSON, CA - JULY 04: Fredy Montero #17 of Seattle Sounders FC tries for the bicycle kick as Omar Gonzalez #4 of the Los Angeles Galaxy defends the play in the first half during their MLS match at The Home Depot Center on July 4, 2011 in Carson, California. Sounders FC and the Galaxy played to a 0-0 draw. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Seattle travels to Monterrey to take on current CONCACAF Champions League title holders in the second match of the CCL group stage.
Just under one year ago, the Seattle Sounders came achingly close to becoming the first MLS team to win a competitive match in Mexico. The Sounders carried a 2-0 lead into the 74th minute, and at that point the eventual CONCACAF Champions League winners would shift out of neutral and grab three goals in the space of four minutes to take a 3-2 lead and coast to victory. In the 11 months since Sounders fans have dreamed of payback, but with FC Dallas grabbing a win against Pumas UNAM last week, some of the luster has been stolen. Seattle will never be the first MLS team to win south of the border but there's still something very important to take from this game. Having won convincingly in their first effort, Seattle solidified their status as a favorite to advance to the knockout stage, and that's with rational minds counting on zero points from this fixture; bringing anything back home to Seattle would be a major boost to the Sounders chances.
Thing is, that's going to be tough. Really tough. Monterrey has dropped off a bit since then and Seattle has improved, but they're still one of Mexico's top clubs and given last year's close call and the recent success of FC Dallas Rayados most likely won't be overlooking the challenge. There's also the small matter of Humberto Suazo; the big striker has missed the past several games due to injury, but he is expected to at the very least be available off the bench this evening. If Monterrey without Suazo have an edge over Seattle, Monterrey with the Chilean legend are a class apart; there quite simply aren't forwards of his caliber in MLS and no defense in the league is built to deal with players of his level. Suazo's appearance is far from a given, but last season it took about fifteen minutes of his influence on the game to turn the tides completely. And though he does cast an almost superhuman shadow on the game, it's important to keep in mind that Monterrey are strong favorites with or without him.
And it's not just the disparity in talent; though Seattle was able to scrap their way to victory against FC Dallas on Saturday night in triple-digit heat, the fatigue was clearly evident later on in the game. Temperatures will be only slightly more tolerable this evening (with the forecast in Monterrey calling for a high of 91 degrees) and a short turn-around from the game in Dallas coupled with many Sounders regulars going a full, agonizing 90 minutes mean Seattle will come into Monterrey at something significantly less than full fitness. Every player that started on Saturday against FC Dalllas will be a question mark meaning there's little chance the Sounders start a true full-strength lineup and those first-choice players that do start won't be decent bets to give a strong end-to-end performance.
On the plus side, Monterrey isn't likely to be fully charged in their own right; aside from the aforementioned less than fully fit Suazo, Rayados dropped a huge FMF contest to Chivas de Guadalajara on Saturday, a game which saw them roll out a full-strength lineup. The odds of Monterrey ever going with a first-choice squad this evening were always going to be slim, but on short rest and after a poor result Víctor Manuel Vucetich may well be tempted to give Monterrey's youth players a full run out. That's clearly Seattle's best chance at taking three points, but the unspoken goal is going to be to limit the damage, keep things close, take advantage of any opportunities that may come Seattle's way and hope for the best no matter who is on the pitch for the home side.
Expect a defensive look from Seattle. Osvaldo Alsono and Servando Carrasco both in midfield would be far from shocking. A return the the narrow diamond 4-4-2 wouldn't be a surprise; it's not the most attractive tactical approach, but the Sounders used it to positive effect on several occasions earlier in the season. A 4-5-1 with an isolated striker would be far from surprising as well; the common thread is that Seattle's emphasis is likely to be on keeping the clean sheet over attacking Monterrey's goal. Every team wants to win every game, but sometimes the smart approach is to keep the opposition off the board and take what comes. That's the situation Seattle will be in tonight, and though it might not lead to the most open and exhilarating game it may well give them a chance to grab a result. That's worth all the negative soccer in the world.