By JOSE M. ROMERO
The most important goal for Seattle Sounders FC is winning the MLS Cup, coach Sigi Schmid said Wednesday.
But that doesn't diminish the emphasis placed on a strong CONCACAF Champions League performance and defending its U.S. Open Cup title, he added. An emphasis found in the location of the first leg of the Rave Green's CCL play-in series – Qwest Field.
Seattle will host the first leg of the CCL preliminary round against a Central American opponent yet to be determined at Qwest rather than the smaller venue where it hosted U.S. Open Cup matches last season – Starfire Sports Complex in nearby Tukwila. That means an expected crowd in the tens of thousands as opposed to around 4,000 at Starfire, and the stadium will not have started hosting NFL preseason football by late July, so it will have open dates.
Champions League is the most important tournament in our region," general manager Adrian Hanauer said in a statement from the club. "As we assessed opportunities to make this a prominent event, Qwest Field became the logical choice."
The first leg will be held July 27-29 with the second leg in Central America a week later. That would make for four games in two weeks for the Sounders and will test the club's depth, especially with the trip south for the second leg.
Winners in the CCL preliminary round advance to group play, which begins Aug. 17-19. If Sounders FC advances to the group stage, it would join Monterrey (Mexico), Saprissa (Costa Rica) and either Tauro (Panama) or Marathon (Honduras) in what will be a difficult Group C.
Monterrey won the Mexican Apertura title in 2009 and Saprissa is traditionally one of Costa Rica's top clubs.
Seattle earned its place in the Champions League preliminary round as 2009 U.S. Open Cup champions. It is slotted to play a team from El Salvador, but FIFA suspended the nation's soccer federation from international competition due to governmental interference in federation affairs, according to a Sounders news release. So the status of club teams in the CCL from El Salvador remains up in the air, and Sounders FC hopes to know its opponent by the June 8 compliance deadline put down by FIFA for El Salvador.
Schmid said the Sounders have a "pretty good idea" that Seattle will play one of three Salvadoran clubs; Club Deportivo FAS, 17-time national champion, has already qualified with one of El Salvador's berths, and the second would go to either Aguila or Metapan.
Metapan got to the group stage of CCL last year.
As for this week in MLS play, Seattle on Saturday hosts a much-improved San Jose Earthquakes side that is 4-2-1 this season. A win vaults the Sounders over the Quakes in the West standings, as only a point separates the teams.
While Seattle will be without midfielder Peter Vagenas, it looks likely that defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso will be back from a minor quadriceps injury this week.