By BRIAN TRUSDELL
The Seattle Sounders have an awful sense of timing.
Going into the first leg of the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League against Santos Laguna on Tuesday, the Sounders have lost two straight, have only one victory in six matches this year, and — except for a 3-1 win over Tigres — have scored only two goals.
It’s not a form that promises success in getting to the Champions League finals.
“We’re picking and choosing at times when to play,” Schmid said following Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Real Salt Lake. “We have yet to get where 11 guys are involved for 90 minutes.”
History also makes Seattle’s slump – the worst to start a season in the club’s MLS history – even more worrisome.
MLS teams have won only two matches out of 29 in Mexico since the start of the Champions League, and none outside the Group Stage. This will be the second straight year Seattle will face Santos in the knockout round, winning the home leg of last season’s quarterfinals 2-1 before getting routed 6-1 in Mexico.
That makes Tuesday’s game at CenturyLink Field even more imperative.
Nigerian forward Obafemi Martins got his first start for Seattle since signing with the club in mid-March, going 62 minutes before being replaced. He had been suffering from an undisclosed ailment in the days preceding the match and will be evaluated before Tuesday’s game.
With the inconsistency of his team’s play so far, coach Sigi Schmid is suggesting more lineup changes.
He’ll have to make at least one from Saturday’s starting XI, with goalkeeper Michael Gspurning suspended due to an accumulated yellow card suspension.
The Sounders became the first team to win a knockout series against a Mexican side when they eliminated Tigres in the quarters last month. They will have to rely on that experience to get past Santos, which is unbeaten in their last four, lost only one of their last eight and have climbed to fourth in Liga MX – six points off the lead.
The match also will be a rematch between Schmid and Santos forward Herculez Gomez.
The U.S. international sparked headlines prior to last season’s meeting, saying that when he played for Schmid at the LA Galaxy in the early 2000s, the manager told him he should try another profession. Schmid responded by saying he recalled the conversation differently.
Either way, Gomez scored three goals over the two games and led Santos into semifinals and eventually the finals.
Regardless, Schmid thinks a change of scenery – or in this case competition – can only be of benefit to the Sounders.
“It helps, definitely,” Schmid said Monday. “A couple years ago, we were going through a little bit of a struggle and the (U.S.) Open Cup really helped us. We caught some good games there and started to move forward from that. Being in another competition maybe takes your mind off of it.”
SEATTLE SOUNDERS vs. SANTOS LAGUNA
WHEN: Tonight, 10pm
ON THE AIR: Fox Soccer Channel
WHERE: CenturyLink Field, Seattle
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sounders- Eddie Johnson, Osvaldo Alonso, Mauro Rosales, Steve Zakuani. Santos Laguna- Oribe Peralta, Darwin Quintero, Felipe Baloy, Herculez Gomez.
MATCH-UPS TO WATCH: Djimi Traore vs. Darwin Quintero. The speedy Quintero is a handful for any defense, and Traore has the athleticism to try and cope with his pace. Seattle left back Leo Gonzalez must also be careful not to get abused by U.S. Men’s National Team striker Herculez Gomez, who got the better of him a year ago when these teams met in the knockout rounds. Eddie Johnson could get a sneak peek of World Cup qualifying in June when he takes on Panamanian centerback Felipe Baloy in what should be the best match-up of all.