The Seattle Sounders came into the season with one of their stated goals being to advance past the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League. They can do that, officially, with just a point against Guatemalan side CSD Comunicaciones tonight at the Estadio Cementos Progreso in Guatemala City. Though a draw would keep Comunicaciones within three points of Seattle, the first tie-breaker in the CCL group stage is total number of points between the equal teams and with Seattle having won their match at CenturyLink Field a draw would give them the edge. There was a great deal of concern amongst Sounders fans after the team's 2-1 home loss to CS Herediano a week ago, but to be clear the reality of the situation is far from dire; Seattle needs to get one point against a team they beat 4-1 (while playing down a man for half an hour) just over a month ago.
It's certainly not a given. Seattle won't be playing at home of course; they'll be playing in Guatemala, and Comunicaciones has won both of their previous home games (one of those a 1-0 defeat of Monterrey.) The Sounders are likely to start a strong lineup this evening (probably stronger than the one they started in the first matchup between the two sides, with Saturday's date with the New England Revolution being largely inconsequential) but thanks to the injuries to Mauro Rosales and James Riley it's certainly going to be less than full strength. In addition, the Sounders are likely to start the game with several players that won't be able to play all 90 having just put in a full shift against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday; Fredy Montero seems a good bet to fall into this camp, if if Alvaro Fernandez gets the starting nod it's doubtful he'll be good for too much more than 60 minutes.
With the above hurdles a given, however, Seattle should still be confident of their ability to grab a point from this game. The Sounders have garnered most of their success this season by taking things directly at their opponent in a very attack heavy style of play, but they've shown an ability to soak up pressure and counter-attack quite effectively as well; their victory over Monterrey is a prime example. Seattle's back line is going to be close to full strength, with Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Jeff Parke, Tyson Wahl and Zach Scott the likely starters (though Leo Gonzalez could slot in for Wahl if Seattle hopes to play a flatter shape in defense.) Alvaro Fernandez is a likely starter on one wing with his early exit from the Whitecaps game looking very much like a move with an eye towards this evening, as was the decision to keep Mike Fucito on the bench Saturday evening. Fredy Montero and Osvaldo Alonso will most likely start. Erik Friberg traveled with the team to Guatemala and is reportedly back to full fitness, but seeing as how he has yet to make an appearance as a substitute since coming off due to an injury against Real Salt Lake the more likely option would seem to be Servando Carrasco.
In any event, Seattle is going to put a competitive lineup on the field and that competitive lineup will be tasked with an achievable goal. Despite the slip against Herediano, the Sounders are still completely in control of their own destiny. And with a very crowded schedule in October, Seattle is going to be eager to cinch qualification to the next stage before Monterrey comes to town and make the outcome of that game largely irrelevant. There's a tendency to overreact when the Sounders falter, but let's be clear; for the better part of this season this has been one of the top 3 teams in MLS and their performance over the last two months has put them into the conversation as being the best in the league. That automatically puts them in the upper tier in CONCACAF, and their win in Monterrey has shown that they can compete with the region's best.
The relevance of these facts is simple; this is a game from which Seattle should absolutely expect to be able secure a point. That it isn't a foregone conclusion should not distract from that. Seattle has all appearances of being on the ascendancy to becoming one of CONCACAF's elite clubs, and with that being the case they should be expected to take care of business. To not do so would be a pretty serious disappointment, and could likely have a negative impact on their pursuit of domestic goals. To this point, the Sounders have shown tremendous signs of maturity as a team whenever presented with a challenge; if they can continue the theme tonight, they'll have a chance to take another huge step in their growth as a club.