For Sounders, Champions League is a chance to escape early-season struggles
The Sounders hope a strong showing in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals will help jump-start what has so far been a disappointing 2013 season.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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TUKWILA — What helps following a bad loss? A quick turnaround, according to Sounders FC players and coaches.
And changing from MLS to CONCACAF Champions League? Even better.
Seattle has those two things going for it, at least, amid a last-place start to the league season. Call it a glimmer of positivity heading into a CCL semifinal against Mexico's Santos Laguna.
The first leg of the two-game, aggregate-goals series is 7 p.m. Tuesday at CenturyLink Field, and the Sounders are hoping nonleague success will help give a jump-start to 2013.
"A couple of years ago we were going through a little bit of a struggle and the Open Cup really helped us," said coach Sigi Schmid. "We caught some good games in there and we started to move forward from that. So being in another competition is something that maybe takes your mind off of it."
CCL has provided Seattle's only highlight of the year. In the quarterfinal round a month ago, the Sounders became the first MLS team to eliminate a Mexican opponent since the tournament changed formats in 2008. The triumph came in a stunning comeback against Tigres UANL with three goals in 23 minutes.
No MLS team has won the CCL — a tournament for the top club teams in North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Real Salt Lake was the league's only finalist, in 2010-11.
Adding to that history would go far to redeem a woeful past few weeks.
"We've done well against Mexican teams at home — maybe the turf plays a factor, the weather, whatever it is — and I think our mentality in this tournament at home has been pretty good," said midfielder Brad Evans. "I think everybody is looking for a little bit of an escape from league, but at the same time you want to get back into league so you can get that win under your belt."
The Sounders will go in Tuesday's game without one of its regulars, as goalkeeper Michael Gspurning is suspended due to yellow-card accumulation. That provides a rare opportunity for backup Marcus Hahnemann, a Seattle native with English Premier League and U.S. national team experience.
"He knows what big occasions are and he knows the importance of them," said Schmid.
Hahnemann has only played one once for the Sounders' first team, a CCL group game in October, but didn't allow a goal in 242 minutes in preseason.
"Every time I get to put on the shirt, it has huge meaning," the 40-year-old said. "Now all of a sudden it's Champions League. It's a huge deal."
And a chance to turn around early season struggles? Also huge.
• Forward David Estrada, who was poked in the eye during Saturday's game, will see a specialist to determine the extent of the damage. He is unlikely to play Tuesday.
• Ticket sales for the game were up to 17,900 as of Monday, according to a team spokesman. Tickets will be available at the gate.
• Four-game ticket packages for Reign FC went on sale Monday morning. Players and coach of Seattle's new NWSL team will also sign autographs before the Sounders' CCL game Tuesday. They will be at CenturyLink Field's northwest and east concourses at 6 p.m., and team merchandise will be available for the first time.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or email@example.com.