COMMERCE CITY, CO - JULY 28: Eddie Johnson #7 of the Seattle Sounders FC controls the ball against the defense of Tyrone Marshall #34 of the Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on July 28, 2012 in Commerce City, Colorado. The Sounders defeated the Rapids 2-1. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Champions League play is full of surprises, but the Seattle Sounders opponent in the first group-stage match of the 2012-13 competition comes against a club that is an unknown quantity even by CONCACAF standards.
Previewing CONCACAF Champions League games is never an easy task; even games against the biggest Mexican clubs are something of a wild card, given the fact that the majority of those games fall during the middle of the Primera season and it's generally anyone's guess what kind of team the opposition will field. But these early round games pose a special kind of challenge. CONCACAF is a region that includes some very small countries with very limited soccer traditions, and with a population two-thirds as large as King County and a top division just ten seasons old, Trinidad and Tobago is very much a part of that group. In making their first ever appearance in continental competition, Caledonia AIA is as much of a mystery as any team in international club soccer.
Most outside of the region have very little to go on; their exposure to other Trinidad and Tobagan teams such as Joe Public and Defense Force FC as well as the play of the Trinidad and Tobago national team, whose pool includes three Caldedonia players. Somewhat typical of Caribbean soccer, those teams tend to feature a great deal of athleticism and a decent bit of flair, but are often lacking in technical skill and refinement. These can be very dangerous teams against if they are able to defend well and exploit space on the counter attack, but if forced to break down the defense of superior opposition they will often struggle. Most indications would imply that Caledonia is not exception to this trend; those that know the league praise their ability to move the ball quickly along the ground and get in behind defenses to wreak havoc on the counter, but point out that well-organized defenses cause them some significant difficulties.
For the Sounders, the expectations are clear; anything short of a win in this game is a disaster. With the new, shorter, (presumably) easier group stage home wins are a requirement. But with a massive clash against the LA Galaxy looming on Sunday, maintaining focus could prove to be a challenge. It's unlikely that the Sounders will put a full-strength team on the pitch, and given the very difficult stretch of games upcoming that makes sense; still, any time less experienced players are counted on to secure a result, the level of difficulty is increased.
Still, despite the fixture congestion and important league matches on the horizon, this is a game the Sounders should be expected to win. To be blunt, teams from Trinidad and Tobago do not tend to be especially good and a side with as deep a squad as Seattle should be able to handle them easily, especially at home. That's not to say that Caledonia should be overlooked, but it does set the bar at a pretty clear level. If the Sounders truly aim to be one of the region's elite sides, these are games they need to be able to win in their sleep.