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Originally published March 6, 2012 at 8:02 PM | Page modified March 7, 2012 at 7:00 PM

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For Sounders FC, playoff intensity arrives early against Mexico's Santos Laguna

The Sounders, who open CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal Wednesday at 7 p.m., are helping MLS clubs close gap on dominant Mexican teams.

Seattle Times staff reporter

CONCACAF Champions League

Quarterfinals

Tuesday and March 13

• Morelia (Mexico) vs. Monterrey (Mexico)

Wednesday and March 14

• Sounders FC vs. Santos Laguna (Mexico)

• Toronto FC vs. Los Angeles Galaxy

Thursday and March 15

• Isidro Metapan (El Salvador) vs. UNAM Pumas (Mexico)

Two-leg aggregate series;

semifinal matchups: Sounders-Santo

vs. Toronto-L.A winners

and Morelia-Monterrey

vs. Isidro-Pumas winners

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TUKWILA — Sounders FC won't play for a more prestigious title this season than the CONCACAF Champions League, says its coach.

That's not intended as a slight against MLS, Sigi Schmid explains, but the CCL extends beyond being just a national championship. It covers the whole soccer-loving continent.

And that quest for regional superiority continues Wednesday, as the Sounders host Mexico's Santos Laguna in a 7 p.m. quarterfinal leg at CenturyLink Field. The conclusion of the two-game, aggregate-goals series will be March 14 in Torreon, Mexico.

In Seattle, playoff intensity comes early.

"If you can win the championship of your confederation, if you can be the champions of that group, if you can lay claim to the title that says, 'Hey, we're the best team from Canada all the way through Panama,' that's something that's pretty special and pretty unique," said Schmid.

The CCL has long been dominated by Mexican teams, who have won 27 of 46 CONCACAF championships since 1962, including the earlier incarnation called the Champions Cup.

But that trend seems to be changing. While Mexican teams remain the favorites, MLS is closing the gap — and notable progress was seen last year.

In August, FC Dallas became the first American team to ever win on Mexican soil with a 1-0 road triumph against UNAM Pumas. One week later, Seattle followed that with another conquest, winning 1-0 at Monterrey.

Is there more success to come? The Sounders think so.

"We feel like we can beat them," said midfielder Mauro Rosales. "We feel like if we work and everyone is concentrated and we work for each other, we can be a very strong team."

Santos Laguna has proved itself as plenty strong, as well, with top-four finishes in the past three Primera Division seasons.

The Mexican side is "loaded" with offensive talent, according to Sounders FC general manager Adrian Hanauer, and leads its league with 16 goals in nine games. Santos brought a full-strength lineup to Seattle, including forwards Oribe Peralta and Herculez Gomez. Peralta scored four goals in the team's 5-2 win Saturday against San Luis and Gomez, a former A-League Sounder, was on the U.S. men's national team for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Seattle has done its best to prepare for the Mexican style of play — often more technical and possession-oriented — with preseason games the past two weeks against Atlante of Cancún and Jaguares de Chiapas. The Sounders won both games by a combined 7-2 score, but the experience was more valuable than the results.

"Now we face Mexican teams and know what to expect," said midfielder Brad Evans. "There was a learning curve the past three years, and now it's time. ...

"Obviously it's going to be difficult. We're facing a team that is of high quality. But is it something we've never seen before? No. It won't take us by surprise."

And Mexican teams know that too, according to Schmid.

"It's a very serious thing now, whereas before they thought, 'Maybe we're going to win this hands down,' " the coach said. "They know it's going to be a battle, and we know we have a chance to win."

NOTE

• Sounders FC defender Zach Scott is suspended for Wednesday's game due to yellow-card accumulation in last year's group stage.

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or jmayers@seattletimes.com

On Twitter: @joshuamayers

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