Seattle Sounders fans wanted to see signs of progress this season. A real run at the Supporters Shield and deep advancement into the playoffs were certainly things many were hoping for, but there was a real sense that the Sounders failure to advance past the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League left a bad taste in many a mouth. The front office pushed the competition hard, the fans turned out well and the Sounders fell flat on their faces. There were some extenuating circumstances and given that it was Seattle's first foray into international competition most were understanding, but there was a caveat; more was expected. And to be clear, that is a position shared by the front office as well. Winning the CCL is one of the club's stated top priorities, and it's fair to say they were not particularly thrilled with the team's performance in their own right.
So, if failing to advance past the group stage last season was a disappointment, it doesn't seem like hyperbole to state that the Sounders failing to advance to the group stage this season would be nothing short of disastrous. CCL qualifiers should be a formality for MLS teams, and if you fail where Toronto FC manages to succeed, that's a pretty significant problem. San Francisco aren't a very good team, and despite their managing to win the first leg they showed nothing that would make anyone think the Sounders aren't capable of putting a pretty gaudy number on the board against them, especially considering that the Panamanian club did not fly to Seattle until yesterday afternoon.
Still, being capable of doing so is a very different thing than actually managing to do so. And if there's any real concern for the Sounders, it would be their inability to break down heavily hunkered teams. That was evident in the first leg; San Francisco was playing a rather defensive style from the outset and when they went ahead late in the first half they became even more firmly entrenched. With a one goal lead and playing on the road, it would be a surprise to see that approach change too much. The Sounders will almost certainly come out attacking to try and grab a goal or two and force San Francisco to come out of their shell, but of course there is some danger in that. The Sounders struggle against the counter at times and though San Francisco showed little in terms of danger in attack in the first leg, just one mistake could lead to an away goal and a very grim outlook indeed for Seattle.
Still, despite all of the grim scenarios that could come to play, the Sounders should win this game and win it handily. That's why not advancing would be such a stupendous failure; teams from Panama don't have much business knocking off teams from MLS, especially those teams that many would consider among the league's elite. The Sounders have better players, better facilities, better coaching and more money. Objectively, there shouldn't be much concern heading into this game; the Sounders were caught on an off night in a part of the world that has been historically difficult for MLS teams to play. But there's just enough doubt-with San Francisco having matched up well against them despite their inferior talent and the Sounders current run of poor form-to make the evening a very nervous one. The Sounders have put themselves in a position where just one mistake could put one of their most important objectives of the season unreachable before it's even started.
Isn't international club soccer awesome?