Jul 11, 2012; Tukwila, WA, USA; Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (6) chips in a goal during a penalty shot against the Chivas USA during the 2nd half at Starfire Sports. Seattle defeated Chivas USA 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-US PRESSWIRE
In a short group stage where away wins are hard to come by, the Sounders can put qualification to the knockout round in their own hands if they can manage to take three points in Malabar.
The Seattle Sounders began the month of August as a team in transition; though the results returned in July after a horrid stretch in May and June, this was still a team that was clearly under-performing and struggling to re-capture their identity. Alvaro Fernandez, one of the key performers of the 2010-11 season, had just been traded to the Chicago Fire, paving the way for new Designated Player Christian Tiffert. There was a sense of optimism, but it was clearly of the cautious variety. And so, it was a relief when the Sounders rolled over a Caledonia side that entered the game an almost completely unknown entity. Seattle followed that win with a 4-0 trouncing of the LA Galaxy, and though that win was followed by two heartbreaking losses in the space of a week, the Sounders put the disappointment behind them and picked up two big more wins.
If Seattle can close out the month of August in a similar fashion to which they began it, it would be difficult to consider it anything but a success. That may sound strange seeing as how it included an unsuccessful defense of the US Open Cup title and a last-second loss to the San Jose Earthquakes that all but eliminated the Sounders from the Supporters Shield race, but in MLS play Seattle was 4-1-0 and managed to outscore their opponents 13-4. Fredy Montero has been nearly unstoppable, Eddie Johnson has kept up his scorching form, Mauro Rosales looks to be every bit the player he was last season and Christian Tiffert has been very much as advertised; it appears as though the Sounders have found the identity they were looking for. And with three points against Caledonia, they will put themselves very much in the driver's seat of Group 4.
That is, of course, much more easily said than done. Caledonia was not at all an impressive team when they faced the Sounders in Seattle, and their 0-0 home draw against Marathon gives little reason to change that perception. Still, winning on he road in CCL play is never easy; in nine attempts, the Sounders have managed to do so only once. And given the importance of keeping their current run of form in league play rolling combined with the rigorous travel schedule, Seattle will almost certainly field a lineup that is below full-strength. Zach Scott and Marc Burch are near certainties to start, while Mario Martinez, Sammy Ochoa and Alex Caskey seem strong favorites as well. The Sounders depth has served them well in non-league competitions this season, and it was a reserve-heavy side that handled Caledonia with relative ease the last time around. But given the venue and nature of the competition, they'll need to be at their best.
A failure to win would not in and of itself be a failure, but it would significantly increase the pressure on Seattle in their upcoming games against Marathon. Three points for Seattle would force the Marathon side to win twice more in the group stage, and at least one of this victories would have to come against the Sounders. But a draw would put the Sounders on roughly equal footing, while even a loss could be overcome. Ultimately, however, there's little reason that Seattle shouldn't expect a win against Caledonia. If not for the restructuring of CCL play, this is likely not a team that would have advanced past the qualification round. And given their place at the bottom of the group, any incentive to play a defensive style is out the window. But it's important to keep one key thing in mind; this is the CONCACAF Champions League. Very odd things have been known to happen, and no result can be taken for granted no matter how wide the talent gap.