CONCACAF leg one preview — Slaying Santos at home is vital

Mike Fiechtner Photography
Herculez Gomez will cause a lot of problems for the Sounders back four tonight, the question is — how will this group of youth and veterans handle the pressure.

For clubs around the globe, mid-season cup ties are an inconvenience. For Seattle Sounders FC though, tonight’s first leg semifinal match against Mexican powerhouse Santos Laguna is a chance for a fresh start — a new outlook on what has been a depressing season start.

A win tonight would not be historic — the Sounders defeated Santos at home last season before falling badly in the road leg — nor would it give the club, city or supports that overwhelming lift of support needed to run the table on the remaining 30 or so MLS matches. What a victory tonight would do though is give the Sounders and MLS as a whole an opportunity to make a massive splash on a global scale. This is a chance that the LA Galaxy will also have tomorrow in their home leg against C.F. Monterrey. Heading down to Mexico for a second leg is one of the most difficult tasks in American soccer — so getting off on the right foot is vital for the Rave Green.

Here’s a nice video preview that MLS threw together for tonight’s match, featuring analysis from Starfire, the MLS studios and a little look at Santos star and American forward Herculez Gomez.

Along with the video, here’s a few extra notes to keep an eye on in tonight’s match — the first half of a 180-minute battle.

  • The health, and therefore availability, of both Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins are in question for tonight’s match making manager Sigi Schmid’s job a little tougher heading into the first leg. If either or both are available to go though, I’d expect to see them out there, possibly for a full 90. It’s important to remember that the Sounders are off this weekend, meaning they have no match in the seven days between the two legs.
  • Mario Martinez is back with the side and trained with the full club in the final two sessions before the match. I not only expect Martinez to play tonight, but start and contribute as well.
  • It was announced earlier in the week that Marcus Hahnemann will get the start in goal tonight, giving Michael Gspurning a well deserved rest.
  • The injury status of Shalrie Joseph is still unknown, and therefore I would;t expect him to see time tonight, but he could possibly be ready for the away leg or MLS match following it next week.
  • Projected Starting XI — Again, with the injury status of the two forwards unknown this could change quite a bit. For the meantime I’m putting both EJ and Martins in the starting group, but their likely replacements would be Sammy Ochoa, Mauro Rosales or an interchanging of roles from guys like Martinez or Steve Zakuani.

    GK – Marcus Hahnemann
    CB – Djimi Traore             CB – Jhon Kennedy Hurtado/Zach Scott
    RB – DeAndre Yedlin                      LB – Leo Gonzalez
    CDM – Ozzie Alonso
    RM – Mario Martinez                 LM – Steve Zakuani
    CAM – Brad Evans
    FW – Eddie Johnson           FW – Obafemi Martins

    The match kicks-off at 7 p.m. and can be viewed on Fox Soccer Channel — although from what I’m seeing there’s still a ton of tickets left (and for pretty cheap), so if you’re free, get down to CenturyLink — this is one match that’d be killer to see in person.

    You can also follow myself and fellow NASORB writer Sean Kramer on Twitter during tonight’s match for analysis.