Thursday, May 20, 2010

SOUNDERS FC: Unlucky draw spells extra games in CONCACAF tournament

After qualifying for the CONCACAF tournament in 2009 by winning the U.S. Open Cup, the Sounders FC knew they would be playing additional games in 2010 versus last year’s schedule. Turns out that breaking the “Curse of May” with last week’s win over the Red Bulls was not powerful enough to reverse the Sounders recent run of bad luck.

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Today, fate picked Seattle during the drawing for the preliminary round of the tournament along with 15 other unhappy teams including the L.A. Galaxy and maybe Toronto FC, if the Vancouver Whitecaps don’t edge them out. This means the Sounders can add two more games to their already stuffed calendar.

Seattle doesn’t know whom they will face. Neither does Xelaju of Guatemala. Those two births belonged to El Salvador whose government FIFA suspended pending charges of tampering. The nation has until June 8 to submit to the federation’s non-intervention requirements, otherwise their tournament births will be reassigned. All the other teams in the play-in round know their opponents.

Qwest Field will host the first leg July 27-29; the exact date is still unknown. The second leg, probably in Seattle, follows a week later. If the Sounders can defeat Central America 12, they will be in Group C of the tournament, facing Monterrey of Mexico, Saprissa of Costa Rica and the winner of the Tauro FC (Panama) vs. Marathon (Honduras) play-in match.

One thing is sure, with 30 MLS regular season games (Maybe more?), the U.S. Open Cup, the CONCACAF tournament and two friendly matches, the Sounders will be playing upwards of 40 games this year, maybe even 50 plus if they go deep into either tournament or the postseason. The extended schedule will test of how effectively Seattle was able to condition their players during the offseason and whether or not the recent roster additions will pan out for the team.

Head Coach Sigi Schmid is excited about the opportunity the team has this season to win the “Triple Crown” of North American soccer, but plans to focus on the MLS Cup.

“We want to win everything because we are greedy and selfish. A lot of clubs are like that, I think,” said Schmid. “Champions League is certainly a very important goal and defending the Open Cup is something we would like to do as well. So we are going to try and do the triple if we can but that’s a lot of work for us. We just have to go week to week.”

To aid them in their quest for hardware, the Sounders have been constantly adding pieces to the puzzle.

The play-in round coincides with the arrival of Blaise Kufo, who could be in Seattle as soon as July 15, and will bolster the team’s front line in lieu of the injured Nate Jaqua. Jeff Parke, the recently signed defender, will probably back up the current starters, but should his services be required, he has proven a reliable central defender.

David Estrada, Michael Fucito and Michael Seamon were all drafted out of college during the last two years. In the 2009 U.S. Open Cup, the Sounders used mostly backups and reserve players as they made their way to the final round. The precedent will likely follow into 2010, where the rookies will see most of their playing time during non-league games.

We will keep you updated with any news on the Sounders first round opponent.

(Host of first leg listed first)

Central America 11 vs. Xelaju (GUA)
Brujas (CRC) vs. Joe Public (TRI)
San Juan Jabloteh (TRI) vs. Santos-Toluca (Mexican Clausura runner-up)
San Francisco (PAN) vs. Cruz Azul (MEX)
Los Angeles Galaxy (USA) vs. Puerto Rico Islanders (PUR)
Tauro FC (PAN) vs. Marathon (HON)
Seattle Sounders (USA) vs. Central America 12
Toronto-Vancouver (Canadian champion) vs. Motagua (HON)

Group A

Real Salt Lake (USA)
Arabe Unido (PAN)
San Francisco/Cruz Azul winner
Toronto-Vancouver/Motagua winner

Group B
Columbus Crew (USA)
Municipal (GUA)
San Juan Jabloteh/Santos-Toluca (Mexican Clausura runner-up) winner
Brujas/Joe Public winner

Group C
Monterrey (MEX)
Saprissa (CRC)
Seattle/Central America 12 winner
Tauro/Marathon winner

Group D
Santos/Toluca (Mexican Clausura champion)
Olimpia (HON)
Los Angeles Galaxy/Puerto Rico Islanders winner
Central America 11/Xelaju winner

Reach Galen Helmgren at