Photo by Michael Pimental/ISIphotos.com
By JOSE M. ROMERO
The Seattle Sounders are in Costa Rica for their CONCACAF Champions League group match against Deportivo Saprissa tonight, and if the Sounders don't win, they might as well stop trying to advance out of the group.
The Sounders have lost their first two CCL matches and have four remaining including tonight. They're stuck on zero points, while Monterrey leads with six and Saprissa and C.D. Marathon have three each. Another loss, and Seattle will need something close to a miracle to advance.
It's been proven difficult for an MLS team to win on the road in CCL play, and the Sounders' prospects look grim. The current part of the team's schedule is a grind that will test its depth, and this week, the Sounders went from Seattle to Costa Rica, then have to go from there to Columbus for its MLS regular-season match against the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Columbus Crew.
It's hard to imagine coach Sigi Schmid fielding his best lineup for the Saprissa game, seeing as the Sounders are in a fight for a low playoff spot and need healthy and rested key players for the Columbus match and other MLS matches thereafter. Defender James Riley is still out with an ankle injury. So it might be time to throw in the towel in CCL play and just play out the string.
If it doesn't happen tonight, expect the Sounders' bench to see some time in upcoming CCL games if Seattle fails to gain at least a point in Costa Rica. That would include young guys like Michael Seamon, David Estrada, Mike Fucito and Miguel Montano and seldom-used players like Tyson Wahl and backup goalkeeper Terry Boss. Giving the kids a taste of international play, or just game action period, certainly can't hurt.
Seamon has shown some flashes of good play, as has Montano. Fucito is an instant sparkplug of energy and effort when he gets his chance. Estrada has been hurt and his time limited, but at some point he has to justify his being selected in the first round.
Also, the Sounders want to have their top players in good form when the U.S. Open Cup championship game rolls around next month. Are CCL matches more important than a chance at another trophy for the headquarters? An educated guess would be no.
Clearly the Open Cup final means a lot to the fans. The club announced Monday that advance ticket sales had surpassed 22,000, meaning that there will be a record crowd for the final at Qwest Field on Oct. 5. The previous record attendance was 21,583 in 1929.
The Sounders probably want to be put forth a respectable showing in CCL. But not at the expense of things that are of higher priority. With one more CCL road game after the Saprissa match, at least they'll have had the experience of so much travel for games for future reference.