The Seattle Sounders are old hats at playing in the Concacaf
No U.S. team has made more appearances in the regional club championship than the Sounders, who are making their seventh appearance in the tournament.
Results have been mixed: a 16-15-5 record and just one semifinal appearance. The Sounders know the history of the competition -- no MLS team has ever won -- and the toll it can take on MLS teams. In 2018, Seattle opened MLS play with three straight defeats after playing in the Concacaf Champions League.
But they've made the 2020 Concacaf Champions League a priority, coming off their second MLS title in 2019 with a three-month layoff to rest up.
Seattle traveled to Mexico City to prepare for the opener against Honduran club Olimpia on Thursday in San Pedro Sula.
A favorable draw -- Olimpia in the first round and the Montreal Impact or Saprissa if they reach the quarterfinals -- means the Sounders would have five MLS and four CCL games under their belts if they reached the semifinals, where they might face a Mexican opponent for the first time.
Most important, those seven weeks would give Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer plenty of time to integrate new players into his lineup.
The biggest changes are on the backline, where there will be three new starters -- Ecuadoran Xavier Arreaga and Colombian Yeimar Gomez Andrade at center back and Cameroonian Nouhou on the left side.
A scrimmage against Atletico Zacatepec last week was the giant Gomez Andrade's first game with the Sounders.
“He’s done a little bit better than I thought,” Schmetzer said. “Having him there for the entire 12 days in Mexico was critical for him to assimilate into the team.”
The biggest signing of the offseason, though, is Brazilian Joao Paulo, who will play in central midfield, pushing Cristian Roldan to the right wing.
In recent years, Seattle's Designated Player signings have been in the summer -- Nicolas Lodeiro in 2016, Raul Ruidiaz in 2018 -- but Joao Paulo's signing shows just how focused the Sounders are on the Concacaf Champions League.
“We really are motivated to go for it for Champions League, we’ve been saying that,” said Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders’ general manager and president of soccer. “To have a full DP, all three of them now from Day 1 for the season, that’s a statement of intent on our part. We mean what we say.”
Photo: Mike Fiechtner / Sounders FC Communications