Sounders FC battling Santos Laguna's strong home advantage
The Sounders are unbeaten in their last three CCL road games, but their quarterfinal opponent, Santos Laguna, is perhaps more dominant at home heading into Wednesday's crucial second leg in Torreon, Mexico.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sounders FC @ Santos Laguna, 5 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel
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The travel. The heat. The stakes.
Nursing a slim 2-1 series lead against Mexico's Santos Laguna in a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal, Sounders FC faces perhaps the most difficult road game in franchise history Wednesday.
It's certainly the most important.
Seattle needs a win, tie or one-goal loss with at least two goals scored in the second leg in Torreon, Mexico, to advance to the semifinals. And aside from the thousands of miles traveled and kickoff temperatures that could approach 90 degrees, the main challenge for the Sounders will be the quality of opponent.
So how good is Santos at home?
In this tournament, the Warriors are 4-0 with a 14-3 goal differential when hosting, dating to last year's group stage and preliminary round. The Mexican side is also tied for first in the Primera Division standings with a 6-2-2 league record, led by a 4-0-2 mark at home in its 30,000-seat stadium at Territorio Santos Modelo.
In the 2010-11 CCL, Santos won four of its five home games, scoring at least five goals in three of those.
"When their crowd gets rowdy, when you feel the pressure a little bit and you don't have your home crowd behind you, it's a totally different game," said defender Jeff Parke. "Nerves become a factor."
But frenzied atmospheres aren't new to the Sounders. And they aren't slouches on the road either.
Seattle was an MLS-best 9-3-5 away from CenturyLink Field last season and went unbeaten in its three CCL group-stage games — winning at Monterrey of Mexico and Herediano of Costa Rica, then earning a tie at Comunicaciones of Guatemala to advance into the quarterfinals.
That will provide the Sounders comfort and confidence heading into the team's fourth trip to Mexico in the past three years.
"We know it's going to be a very, very intense match down there," said midfielder Servando Carrasco, "but we already have the experience of playing down in Monterrey last year, so we have that in our back pocket and know we can get a result."
The key, according to veteran Roger Levesque, is building on that confidence and making sure that it doesn't come at the cost of effort.
"We're not going to be able to go there and just kick the ball around," Levesque said. "If we lose the ball and when we lose the ball, we have to chase right away and fight to win it back. That's what is going to get us the result."
• With a travel squad of 20 players, the Sounders flew to Dallas and held a training session there Monday. The trip to Torreon will be completed Tuesday afternoon.
"Everybody has to do it the way they want to do it and what they think works best," coach Sigi Schmid said of the two-day itinerary. "We think this works best for us and we think for the guys to get appropriate sleep is important in their recovery and their preparation for the game."
• Whether forward Eddie Johnson will start Wednesday will be a game-time decision, according to Schmid.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or email@example.com. On Twitter @joshuamayers.