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Seattle Sounders vs. C.F. Monterrey, CONCACAF Champions League: Time To Play For A Point?

With a trip to the knockout stage already booked and a point good enough win their group, the Seattle Sounders may do well to bunker down and keep their eyes on a draw.

The outcome of the Seattle Sounders group stage finale against defending CONCACAF Champions League winners C.F. Monterrey could have some fairly interesting consequences. Unfortunately, the desirable consequences for the teams involved do not necessarily set the stage for the most interesting of games. Each team would likely be satisfied with a point; the Sounders are through to the knockout round, but a result would clinch the top spot in Group D. That's a nice feather in the cap, but there's also a legitimate advantage to be gained; not only does winning the group ensure that Seattle would host the second leg of their quarterfinal tie, it also means they'd be matched up against a second-placed team from another group. That could be the difference between facing Mexican heavyweights such as Santos Laguna or Pumas and strongly inferior MLS sides like the Colorado Rapids or Toronto FC.

For Monterrey, a draw puts them through to the knockout stage and a win gives them the group crown. They'll clearly have more of an incentive to play for three points, and beyond the immediate competition the Rayados have been reeling in domestic play as well and will desperately be looking for a boost ahead of this weekend's massive derby against cross-town rivals Tigres. Still, Seattle is the home side and the odds that the Sounders will make keeping a clean sheet their top priority seem quite high. Monterrey will be looking for three points, but they likely will not do so at the risk of putting their CCL fate in the hands of CS Herediano; a Monterrey loss and CSD Comunicaciones win would mean the defending champions would see themselves bounced from the competition before the knockout stage begins.

What this all means is that "conservative" is likely going to be the order of the day. It's a completely understandable and justifiable position for each side to take, but that doesn't mean the entertainment value isn't likely to suffer at least a bit (although where CONCACAF referees are involved one never knows how interesting things might get.) On the positive side, there will be some interesting things to watch for that should keep Sounders fans fairly engaged. The combination of Saturday's emotional win over the San Jose Earthquakes, a desire to rest starters before the playoffs and (perhaps most importantly) the fear of losing a key player due to card accumulation for the first leg of the CCL quarterfinals means some less familiar faces may well get a run out for this game. Coming into tonight Erik Friberg, Leo Gonzalez, Nate Jaqua, Kasey Keller, Lamar Neagle, Jeff Parke, James Riley, Mauro Rosales and Zach Scott are all in danger of suspension. Keller isn't much of a concern seeing as how he won't be on the roster by the time the knockout stage starts and Mauro Rosales is an exceedingly long shot to get a start. The others may require some careful consideration (though two of Riley, Parke and Scott will need to start seeing as how Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is suspended and this seems like an odd time for Sigi Schmid to consider playing without a right back.)

And so, large parts of the lineup are anyone's guess. This looks like a perfect time for Sammy Ochoa to get his first starter's minutes and not playing Fredy Montero while he's in the midst of his current run of form seems a poor idea, but these are just inferences; after all, Pat Noonan and Nate Jaqua got the job done in Monterrey, why not in Seattle as well? But at least somewhere on the pitch, someone is going to be playing that Sounders fans have wanted a closer look at. Sammy Ochoa is one reasonable guess; Bryan Meredith is another. David Estrada has been making more appearances with the first team as of late and could sneak into the XI at either right midfield or, at a longshot, right back.

For Monterrey, there will likely be few if any concessions made to future outcomes. With the exception of the injured Aldo de Nigris, Monterrey has brought all of their big guns to Seattle. It's tough to picture the Rayados starting their full Best XI as it were but that's almost always going to be the case for bigger Mexican clubs in CCL play, even when advancing to the next stage is dependent upon getting a result. Any team the visitors put in the pitch would present a challenge for even a full-strength Sounders team. But a challenge is a far different animal than an insurmountable task (which, in case you need a reminder, is what a lot of Sounders fans thought of the reverse fixture upon seeing the team Seattle put on the field.) A point is not an unreasonable expectation from this match by any stretch, and though the larger goal of advancing has already been attained the benefits of taking first in the group are sufficient enough that it's likely the result to target.