Tuesday, July 27, 2010

SOUNDERS FC: Metapán stands between Seattle and CONCACAF

You have undoubtedly seen the ads, “Seattle takes on the world.” While the statement is not exactly true, the Sounders will have an opportunity to face clubs from North and Central America along with the Caribbean. However, to reach the group stage of the tournament, Seattle must out-play El Salvador's AD Isidro Metapán.

To Continue...

The Sounders qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League by winning the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2009. The other U.S. berths went to Real Salt Lake (MLS Cup champion), Columbus Crew (MLS Supporters' Shield winner) and L.A. Galaxy (MLS Cup runner-up).

The Galaxy is the only other U.S. team that did not receive automatic passage to the group stage. The final MLS team in the tournament is Toronto FC, Canada's lone representative.

Both Seattle and Metapán were selected for the play-in stage of the competition, meaning they are not yet guaranteed a spot in the group stage. The teams will play two matches, one in Seattle at Qwest Field, the other at the national stadium in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Total goals scored will determine the winner, with away goals serving as the tiebreaker. Should the two teams remain tied after both matches a 30-minute overtime will be scheduled, followed by penalties if needed.

If Seattle is serious about advancing in the tournament, they must take these two games very seriously. Metapán has won the 2010 Clausura, their league’s championship, for its fourth time in the last seven seasons. All of the championships have come under Head Coach Edwin Portillo, who also played 10 years for Los Caleros.

While Metapán is obviously a strong team, the stats are somewhat skewed. There are two seasons per year in El Salvador's Primera División, where Metapán competes, meaning they have more opportunities to win championships in a year than in the MLS.

It is unclear at this point what the Sounders’ starting lineup might be, but due to the importance of scoring goals on the road, expect to see regular starters on defense at Qwest Field. Look for Jeff Parke, Tyrone Marshall and Leo Gonzalez to anchor the back line in the Seattle leg.

Keeping Metapán from scoring at Qwest will be the priority while scoring goals will take precedence when the team travels 2,800 miles to play in El Salvador. In that game, expect to see Fredy Montero, Blaise Nkufo and other veterans and high-energy substitutions.

Seattle actually has several players on its roster who have experience playing in the CONCACAF tournament including Patrick Ianni (HOU 2007-08), Nate Jaqua (CHI 2004, HOU 2008), Tyrone Marshall (LA 2003, 2006), Pat Noonan (NE 2003, 2006), James Riley (NE 2006), Nathan Sturgis (LA 2006) and Peter Vagenas (LA 2000, 2003, 2006). Sigi Schmid, who was head coach for the L.A. Galaxy made tournament appearances in 1999, 2000 and 2003.

The Sounders as a professional club have made only one other trip to the Champions League. In 1996 the Sounders qualified as the U.S. representative as A-League champions. Seattle defeated Surinam's Transvaal in the preliminary round then finished fourth in the final group stage.

The winner of the CONCACAF tournament will be invited to play in the FIFA Club World Cup.

The match will be aired Wednesday, July 28 at 7 p.m. on Fox Soccer Channel. The radio broadcast will be on 97.3 FM and in Spanish on1210 AM.

Galen Helmgren at nextseasonsports@gmail.com